THE HOLIDAYS are a time for family, traditions and memories. The folks at Clemens Crossing Elementary School just wrapped up one of their annual traditions and have agreed to share some of their favorite holiday memories.
On Monday, Marine Staff Sgt. Richard Weir and Cpl. Alan Collins came to Clemens Crossing to pick up donations for the Toys for Tots drive. Under the direction of gifted-and-talented resource teacher Terri Via, Clemens Crossing schoolchildren Julia Nicholson, Katherine Griffin, Julie Lustbader and Meghan Yi organized this year's drive, which netted 350 toys for underprivileged children.
The Marine Corps' Toys for Tots program was established in 1948. The drive collects an average of 8 million toys each year. With the help of social welfare agencies, Marines distribute toys to nearly 4 million children across the country.
"Clemens Crossing has been one of our biggest supporters," Weir said. "I think they are shining examples for other students. It's a good way for them to learn and pass on that sometimes Christmas is not about receiving something, it's about lending a hand to someone else."
Assistant Principal Tony Yount coordinated the first Toys for Tots drive at the school nine years ago.
"In an affluent community like Clemens Crossing, we forget that we have more than [most] people," Yount said.
"I wanted to help our students understand that giving is more important than receiving. Toys for Tots has always been so kind in talking to our students about giving to others and sharing with little boys and girls who don't have much for the holidays."
Ten-year-old Julie Lustbader agrees.
"It's a really nice way to help other children," she said. "It makes me sad when kids think Santa is going to bring them presents, and they don't get any."
Julie hopes that her school's donations to the drive will make Christmas a little merrier for children who are less fortunate.
"I hope that they'll remember that even though it might have been a rough time for them, they got a present," she said. "I also hope that they would remember that it wasn't just about getting presents, that people cared about them."
While helping to create pleasant holiday memories for others, those at Clemens Crossing Elementary shared some of their favorite holiday memories with this correspondent.
Teacher Terri Via has two children - Katie, 7, and James, 2. Her favorite holiday moment happened last year.
"My daughter was very excited about seeing her brother enjoying his first real Christmas," Via said. "She was as excited for him as she was for herself. That interaction between the two of them and the excitement in their faces was very special for me."
Third-grader Julia Nicholson fondly remembers a holiday trip to Texas, where most of her relatives live.
"I thought we had finished opening all of the presents, but behind the tree there was one more present with my name on it," she said. "It was a big, stuffed dog. I still have it in my bedroom."
Ten-year-old Meghan Yi remembers, "One time on Christmas morning, my parents got me an Easy Bake Oven. I felt happy because they actually got me something that I wanted."
"My favorite holiday memory is when I came back home after leaving the service in 1965," said Tony Yount, who served in the Army in Vietnam.
"I was thankful for being alive. It was special to be reunited with my mom and dad after seeing how families were torn apart in Southeast Asia," he said.
Henry Stern of the Columbia Jewish Congregation says he has the perfect Hanukkah gift for the person who has everything. It's a cookbook, "Matza 101," and contains 101 recipes featuring the Passover staple.
"Every time I look at the book, I see something else that's out of this world," Stern said.
The book, published in California, includes recipes for "Matza Cheese Lasagna," "Matza Vegetable Calzones" and "Matza Broccoli Cheese Casserole."
The Columbia Jewish Congregation is selling the books for $14.95. Information: 410-309-4362, or the Columbia Jewish Congregation, 410-730-6044.