Gifts in honor of the baby Jesus were stacked high, but this wasn’t the gold, frankincense and myrrh of old. Students at Holy Family Elementary School in Hays on Thursday collected baby care items that will be sent to help local families in need.

The school has been hosting a “baby shower for Mary of Nazareth” every December for many years. The project is a way to emphasize the importance of giving to the less fortunate and celebrate Jesus’ birth, said Amadee Staab, a kindergarten teacher who helped organize this year’s event.

“It’s definitely a way for us to encourage the students to give back,” Staab said. “Stewardship is how we run our school, and starting that early in the children to know that other people are less fortunate and other people are in need — and encouraging them to be willing to donate of their time, talent and treasure to help others.”

The annual event at the Catholic school also is planned to coincide with the Feast of Immaculate Conception, which is observed today.

The baby shower started many years ago as a fourth-grade service project, but did so well it since has become a school-wide initiative, Staab said.

All items donated by the school will be taken to the Hays Catholic Charities office at 122 E. 12th. Several hundred items — including diapers, wipes, clothes, toys and other infant care items — are donated by the students each year.

Students filed into the school’s activity center one class at a time and carefully placed their donations — many of which were wrapped for the Christmas holiday — on four long folding tables set up against one wall.

“By the end of the day, we’ll have all four of those tables stacked full and lots of things underneath the tables,” Staab said. “Hundreds and hundreds of donations that we are able to give to them.”

Third-grader Emily Hipp was among the students who was eager to give her gift. She personally chose four outfits to donate for families in need — pajamas and an outfit for a boy and a girl.

“It’s really good,” Hipp said of giving a present to babies in need.

Students also were rewarded for their generosity. In true baby shower style, a long table offered a selection of sweet treats. All of the snacks coincided with children’s books by Laura Numeroff, such as “If You Give a Moose a Muffin” and “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.”

Several teachers also brought their own baby photos to display, and children were given a chance to guess who was who.

“Who is this? Mrs. Gottschalk?” said 7-year-old Ella Kershner as she looked through the photos. “Oh my gosh, that’s cute.”

Amanda Rome, social services case manager at the Hays Catholic Charities location, said the donations are greatly appreciated and distributed year-round to help local families in need.

The agency runs a case management program to help expectant mothers, and many of the items are distributed through that service, she said. Other donations are given at mobile outreach events and even to walk-in customers who visit the agency seeking immediate assistance.

“We utilize them all year long. We’re extremely, extremely grateful to Holy Family and all the kids and parents,” Rome said, noting the volume of donations even seems to get bigger each year.

“I think it’s even grown over the year, so we are so, so thankful to Holy Family.”