December 24, 2017 - 6:01 pm
Updated December 25, 2017 - 6:00 am
Gavin MORRISON swapped out his old, blue-and-black Sketchers for a new pair of black-and-white Champions.
“They’re a lot better than the old ones, just by the way they look and the way they fit,” said 10-year-old Gavin, a fifth-grader at C.T. Sewell Elementary School in Henderson.
Gavin was one of about 750 students at the school who received a very special Christmas gift Friday. In addition to the shoes and new socks, every student left with a brand-new toy, courtesy of Henderson residents Bob and Sandy Ellis.
It’s a tradition, now in its 13th year, in which the couple, both 75 years old, give back to underprivileged kids at schools in Clark and Lincoln counties. This year, that meant 5,200 pairs of shoes, 11,000 pairs of socks and 4,850 toys.
“I just wish, with all the money in this town, that more people would do this,” Bob Ellis said as students trickled into the school cafeteria, each wearing courtesy “junior officer” stickers handed out by Henderson police officers. “This is a joy. This is my Christmas.”
His Christmas includes hordes of screaming children, fighting their instinct to disobey orders to stay seated and run to Santa Claus as he strode into the room. As loud as his entry was, it was nothing compared with the moment when Santa gave the signal and a red curtain was pulled back to reveal a pile of toys.
Gifts for all
And what toys! The Ellises, who spent upward of $200,000 on gifts this year, worked with a new company, Caracao, to provide age-approriate toys for boys and girls at each grade level. The toys change each year, but Sandy, who helps shop, knows there are some everlasting trends.
Around third grade, girls tend to be into crafts. So they purchased three-in-one bead sets for all of them. Hot Wheels never go out of style, and that’s the gift first-grade boys took home.
The Ellises may have outdone themselves with the gifts for the fifth-graders. Girls received 7-inch tablet computers and boys were gifted small, Sky Phantom drones.
“It’s real exciting. We just love to watch the kids. They get crazy,” Sandy Ellis said.
Volunteers who have joined the Ellises’ expanding giveaway over the years distributed the gifts quickly and efficiently.
The gifts didn’t stop with the students.
UNLV’s new athletic director, Desiree Reed-Francois, joined the festivities and gave teachers tickets to the men’s basketball game against Boise State on Dec. 30, which is not a school night.
“It’s the teachers, the staff, the volunteers who see these kids everyday, they’re the heroes,” said Bob Ellis as he watched the presentation.
A history of giving back
For their efforts to spread holiday cheer, the Ellises will have their own school named after them on Beltrada Avenue and Via Italia in 2018-19, a decision made in October by the School Board.
Bob Ellis is the former president and CEO of Snap Towing, and he owned B&E Auto Auction before selling it a decade ago. He now owns R&S Investment Properties and R&S Leasing.
They have lived in the valley since the 1950s. Bob graduated from Rancho High School in Las Vegas, Sandy from Basic High School in Henderson. Bob’s alma mater has been the beneficiary of the couple’s generosity, too, which included a $50,000 donation to help homeless students.
Christmas gifts for schoolchildren aren’t the only way they give back. The Ellises have donated to the Henderson Libraries Foundation, UNLV and Nevada State College, focusing on educational programs.
For their efforts, they were named Distinguished Nevadans in 2015 by the Nevada System of Higher Education, two of 11 people honored that year for contributions “to the cultural, scientific or social advancement of Nevada.”