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Creating, giving: Hazel's Christmas spirit

Allow Hazel her moment. Allow her to consider herself one of Santa's elves. She certainly fits the bill. This holiday season, Hazel Aili stuffed the donation box at South Terrace Elementary with 19 toys for the 29th annual Toys For Carlton Area Kids drive.

She did it the hard way, creating hundreds of craft items in past months and selling them at craft fairs in order to raise the money to pay for the gifts herself. She was able to spend more than $300 on toys.

"It was an amazing, selfless act," said Roxanne Hedlund, president of the Carlton VFW Post 2962 Auxiliary. "Incredible," she continued. "Phenomenal."

Hazel helped make the VFW's toy drive a big success, Hedlund said. It is allowing children of veterans some holiday cheer on Christmas morning, with more than enough donations to spread throughout the community and beyond, Hedlund said.

Hazel offered a smile but few words when asked about her good deed this week. But her eyes sparkle when the remarkableness of her accomplishment is relayed to her.

And when her mom, Danielle, reminds her of their discussion about being one of Santa's helpers, those eyes positively bounce.

Hazel agrees that the creating and giving exemplifies the holiday spirit she feels.

And she's not done. She still has more than 200 items to sell, and will be looking for worthy causes into the future. "It's fun," she said.

Hazel ...

It's sort of a natural progression for the second-grader. Her stay-at-home mom sells decorated tumblers and cups. Her dad, Erik, sells lures at various markets. He's been amused by Hazel's ability to outsell him.

This past summer, "she wanted to do crafts," Danielle said. "She asked what we could do together."

Hazel decorated pens and keychains, using bright colors and characters that most children cannot resist: Minions, The Grinch, Bluey, reindeer, trolls and more. Making the crafts was the most fun, Hazel said.

And she had to dodge her younger siblings, Asher and June, ages 4 and 1, who were either helpful or a hindrance. It isn't difficult to discern the role each played.

Oh, and it wasn't easy going on a shopping spree for others. "I wanted a skateboard," Hazel admits, knowing she had so much cash on hand. Her parents sigh. Yes, it was a challenge keeping Hazel's eyes on the prize.

But she did it, gathering Legos, Barbies, pillows, craft kits, Play-Doh, Nerfs, and dinosaurs. She said she kept all ages in mind when choosing the toys.

Danielle saw a poster for the VFW drive and knew it would be a good place for Hazel to share her fortune. "We wanted something that would be very local," she said. There was a dropbox right at Hazel's school.

She was, by far, the top donor at South Terrace, the VFW's Hedlund said. When she heard about how Hazel's giving came about, she had to spread the news about someone who "takes time to make items, sell them, and then donate to others. Amazing."

Who knows, Danielle said, it could be a start on becoming a business entrepreneur.

Hazel shrugs in a "Why not?" way and then prattles on about playing with her own toys, riding her bike, and hanging out with friends, some who have been recipients of her crafts as gifts.

No doubt, Santa is well aware of Hazel's extraordinary activities. He might even officially declare that there's a new modest and giving 7-year-old elf in Carlton to celebrate. Did we mention she wants a skateboard?

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