Gift-giving project gets bigger

At Deerfield Elementary, 500 presents, 4,500 pounds of food donated

December 17, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,[special to the sun]

Last year, Nicole Schar initiated a program in which teachers, staff members and students at Deerfield Elementary School donated food and gifts to needy families in the school community for the holidays.

Although the response was solid, and a few teachers participated last year, Schar, a second-grade teacher, wanted to make the program bigger this year. She and another teacher created the Ho Ho Committee and encouraged faculty and staff members to help needy families again this season.

As Christmas nears, the group is preparing to deliver about 500 presents donated by the teachers and more than 4,500 pounds of food brought in by students.

"It was a total outpouring of help and generosity," said Phyllis Dannenfelser, the school secretary. "It was wonderful to see the school, community, teachers and parents join together to help our needy families."

The two teachers started by sending a survey to about a dozen families identified as having a need, Schar said. About seven families said they were receptive to getting assistance.

"Some people said no, but most of them wanted to let us help," said Amanda Rutherford, a fourth-grade teacher who created the committee with Schar.

The program began Thanksgiving week. Committee members put up a Christmas tree in the foyer of the school. They assigned each family a number, and each of 31 family members was anonymously listed on a gingerbread man with a gift that person wanted.

For example, a card might read: "Family 7; six-year-old child; Bratz doll," Rutherford said.

Teachers and staff members were encouraged to select a gingerbread man and purchase the gift requested. All gifts were due by Dec. 8 so that they could be sorted and delivered the week before Christmas.

"When we put the gingerbread men out, they went pretty quickly, so we put out more," Rutherford said. "Each time we put more gingerbread men on the tree, someone from our staff of about 72 members would take it off. And many of the staff bought multiple presents."

Gifts include bedsheets, clothing, toys and books, Schar said.

The committee also collected enough food that each family will receive about eight boxes filled with canned goods and other items.

"We were able to get them everything they asked for and a little bit more," Schar said.

The program shows that the teachers understand their community, said Assistant Principal Lillian Cockrell.

"It's obvious when you see the presents and food that the teachers and staff gathered that they care that the children at Deerfield have the best possible Christmas," Cockrell said. "I am so very proud of our teachers that they would do this for the kids and their families."

If the response to last year's program is any indication, the families are grateful for the help.

Schar recalled a delivery she made last year. "We started carrying all these presents into this lady's house, and she just kept saying, `Thank you,' " Schar said. "That's all she could say. Then she wanted to do something for us."

In addition to the help from the teachers and the food from the students, the committee asked local businesses for turkey donations for Thanksgiving dinner for the families. A local Food Lion donated complete meals to the families, Schar said.

The night before Thanksgiving, she delivered the dinners.

"One dad hugged me and started to cry," she said. "Then he turned to his son and told him, `Now you'll get Thanksgiving dinner.' That makes it all worthwhile to me."

Other teachers said the program helped build school and community spirit.

"When the coordinators of the program displayed all the presents and food in the foyer for everyone to see, the children walked into school, and they were impressed and awed by it," said Ruth Gibson, who has taught fourth grade at the school for 22 years.

Lee Wesson, also a fourth-grade teacher, said she had never seen so much giving.

"I walked in on Monday morning and I felt like I was in a dream world where everything was free for people who didn't have," she said. "This is my last year of teaching at the school, and this is a great way to go out."

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