Every year our local union has had a Christmas community sharing program that I have helped coordinate. Throughout the year we do fundraisers so that we can buy gift cards for families in need during the Holiday season or as particular hardships occurs. Families in need are referred and then a card is sent that includes a $50 gift certificate to a local grocery or department store.
This year got personal. We had several families at Freewill Elementary School that we were all very concerned about: some with incarcerated parents, several with medical and financial strains, more who had lost their jobs and the list just went on. As the school counselor, I was already working with several of these families in the classrooms and with the staff, but was also feeling at a loss. I regularly attend the parent group meetings and we had been discussing the general level of increased hardships and how they might be able to offer support while at the same time respecting individual family's privacy. Staff members were also inquiring how they could do more, looking for guidance on how to reach out without offending. There must be a way we could respect these families privacy but also reach out in a more meaningful and supportive way as after all, we do refer to our community as the Freewill Family!
While working with one of the students, she shared her Christmas list with me and I asked if I could make a copy. I then decided to contact her guardian and ask if she would be interested in sharing all 5 children's wish lists. I tossed around my ideas with her about starting an anonymous Christmas sharing program where families in need could submit their wish lists and I would post the items for staff and community members to donate. This single mother of five children was eager to help me get this off the ground and offered valuable insight into how we could make this work. Wow! This idea was taking off like a skyrocket!
In our small rural district, eight families decided to participate. As I was brainstorming with each family about their wish lists, I thought to myself, "Hey! Why Not? If we don't ask, no one will know what to offer!" The final wish lists included everything from toys and pj’s to a new engine for a car and stove for the kitchen! The parent group and staff were informed, the anonymous lists were posted and the shopping began!
I still cry tears of joy thinking about the renewed spirit of sharing that was inspired! A few teachers and staff confessed that they really didn't enjoy holiday shopping until this opportunity came along. Our jaws dropped in shock, the day a parent walked in with a $650 gift certificate for a new stove from the locally owned appliance store, handed it to the school secretary and told her that now we could cross that item off the list! As the gifts came in and the back room filled up, I was in awe of how our community was pulling together. I must admit that I was a little nervous when I first started calling families to ask them if they were interested in participating, as I had no idea how I would even coordinate this effort or how it would play out. Now I was calling these same families back and informing them that their wish lists were filled. Did we need to deliver the items or were they going to pick them up? Our staff made sure each and every child’s item on each wish-list was taken care of! I wish that I had taken pictures of the staff who stayed to lovingly wrap each and every gift or of the elated parents and guardians who came to pick up the bags full of goodies for their families. I will never forget the shear excitement in their voices and the tears of joy that were shared when I made the phone call to let the family know that they would be able to get a new stove and would no longer have to risk cooking with the unsafe one.
As a school counselor, I listen, I care, I work to empower our community to be even better! A new tradition has been born here at Freewill.
(Elizabeth Peters is a member of Wayne Teachers Association)