It’s 6 p.m. on a Friday, and rather than heading home after a long workweek, Renee Dixon — a preschool director in Indianapolis — starts her second job as an Uber driver.

Dixon, 47, revs up her silver Kia Sorento in the school parking lot and makes her way to the first pickup location of the night.

“I drive until about 1 or 2 in the morning,” she said, adding that she drives 12 hours on Saturdays and 6 hours on Sundays, just as she has every weekend since November.

“I can’t rest,” she said. “These kids need me.”

The money Dixon earns as a driver does not go in her own pocket. Instead, she uses it to buy holiday gifts and winter gear for all 50 of her students at Lynhurst Baptist Church Preschool.

“So many of our families don’t have money to get Christmas presents this year. Some parents have lost their jobs, others have had their wages cut back,” Dixon said. “A lot of them already come from low-income families and are below the poverty line.”

The coronavirus pandemic, she said, has intensified the need. The preschool is in the basement of a church, and many of the families are dependent on the food bank there.

As far as presents go, “a lot of these kids were going to get nothing this year,” said Dixon. “I know how that feels.”

Dixon, a teacher for more than two decades and the director of the preschool for two years, can relate to her students — and their parents.

“My mom was a single mom, and we didn’t have much,” Dixon said. “Certain things I wanted her to get me, she couldn’t. It hurt then, but now, as an adult, I understand.”

Dixon — who has lost three family members to the virus — decided she wasn’t going to let any of her students go without a gift this holiday season. In early November, she set up a driver profile on Uber and Lyft, then she hit the road.

Safety is top of mind when Dixon drives: “I have my own strict protocols,” she said. In her car, mask-wearing is required. Each passenger must sanitize their hands upon entering the vehicle, and she uses disinfectant wipes to clean the back seat and door handles between each ride. Plus, she keeps the windows open a crack to circulate fresh air.

“I’m taking all the precautions,” she said. “The health of my students and their families is my number one priority,” she said.

When customers are slow to roll in — which happens often because most people are hunkered down at home — Dixon waits in her car downtown, hoping to secure riders. On a busy weekend, she’ll complete as many as 50 rides.

This is not the first year Dixon has chosen to work a second job to buy gifts for students whose parents couldn’t afford to, she said, but the need is by far the greatest now.

Every time she earns $100, Dixon goes to Target to buy presents, which she keeps stacked in her office. She purchases puzzles, dolls, Lego sets, board games and other items her students have expressed an interest in. Students range in age from 1 to 12, as the school offers care and tutoring services for older students before and after regular school hours.

Each child will receive two presents — one from the school and one from their parents (or Santa).

Even though Dixon has earned the total amount needed to purchase two gifts per child, she’s still driving.

“A lot of the kids have siblings, and I didn’t want them to feel left out,” she said.

So far, Dixon has earned more than $2,500 — enough to buy gifts for each student and their siblings, as well as a small holiday bonus for the 12 staff members who teach at the school.

“I can’t give up, even after Christmas. They still need coats and hats and boots,” Dixon said, adding that she will continue driving for Uber and Lyft until all the children who need winter gear have it.

Not only will her efforts bring joy to the children, but the gifts will also alleviate the immense pressure parents feel at this time of year to purchase presents.

April Eberly, 38, a parent of three children at the school, said she is overwhelmed with gratitude and relief.

“It’s really taking a load off,” said Eberly, whose children are 2, 8 and 9. “The bills add up, and we would love the help this year. I am very appreciative that she is taking her time to work a second job.”

Alongside the funds Dixon has earned through driving, several people in the community have donated money or offered to buy gifts for the students, including Eva Cheung.

Cheung works with Dixon’s husband at a real estate company, and she heard about Dixon’s efforts through him. She immediately decided to get involved.

“I told her I can either send a check, a gift card, or I can come shopping with her,” said Cheung, 63.

Dixon was on her way to Target when Cheung called. They decided to meet there.

“I had so much fun with her,” Cheung said. “We went down the aisles, throwing gifts in the cart. It was pure joy.”

“She was so gracious and thankful, and she told me about what she has been through,” Cheung added. “You read about people like Renee, but when you are finally able to connect with somebody like that and help fulfill their vision, it’s an amazing feeling.”

Since Dixon is using all her additional earnings for her students and staff members this year, she will not be buying Christmas presents for her two daughters.

But they don’t mind, she said.

“My mom has always had a love for children. She is always looking to help younger kids at this time of year,” said Dixon’s daughter Vemirah Johnson, 26, who has been helping her mother pick out presents for the students.

“Everything I’m doing is for these kids right now,” Dixon said. “Their world has turned upside down, and it’s no fault of their own. They deserve this from me.”

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