Kelly Williams SUV overflows with items purchased on a recent shopping trip for the Christmas drive at Sears Elementary, Mountain View Elementary and Kenai Middle schools. The Christmas drive helps families in need by providing a holiday meal, gifts and new clothes to make the season a little merrier. Williams used to serve on the committee that runs the drive and still puts aside some time to help with the shopping trip.
Photo by Will Morrow
One of the messages of the holiday season is to be compassionate toward fellow human beings, and it’s a lesson that certainly is not lost on students at Kenai Peninsula schools.
“I don’t know if they really even have an idea that it might be for someone that they go to school with. Maybe they were told by their parents that it’s for someone who needs it,” said Sears Elementary School secretary Kimb Remsen of students who bring in contributions for the school’s annual Christmas drive.
Remsen said the Christmas drive, which helps families with students at Sears, Mountain View Elementary and Kenai Middle schools, has been an annual event for the past 24 years. Remsen has been involved for about 15 years and been the organizer for about 10 years.
The drive starts in October, when letters are sent to local businesses and organizations asking for donations. Forms are sent home with students at each school to identify families that could use a little help to make the holidays a little merrier, and letters also are sent home with students asking for families to help out, if they can, with donations of items such as a pair of gloves or a hat, or food items.
“Then we match them all up,” Remsen said. “We also take donations, and with any money we receive, we go shopping for the kids.”
Remsen said the drive generally benefits between 60 and 65 families each year, which is an average of 200 children. Each family is provided with a Christmas dinner, and each child receives a new outfit, including socks and underwear, and two new toys. Remsen said any leftover money is used to buy winter clothes a child might need.
Remsen said she has a committee to help her get things coordinated and added that the community support for the drive is great.
Other schools in the district are able to help in a variety of other ways. Schools frequently put together things like food drives to help the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, though Linda Swarner, the food bank’s executive director, said it is hard to quantify just how much is donated because she doesn’t always know when a drive is under way or which school dropped off food.
“Sometimes they do bring us food over here, but we don’t necessarily know about it. ... I know last year, schools brought in a tremendous amount of food right before Christmas. It was totally unexpected,” Swarner said.
She said the donations, even the unexpected ones, are helpful.
“It’s a very good thing,” Swarner said. “We just received, from two area youth groups, many basketfuls of food products just before Thanksgiving. It was a tremendous boost to our inventory.”
Classes also stop by the food bank to do service projects. Swarner said a kindergarten class would be coming to the food bank this week to help bag items for distribution either to the 58 member agencies or for the food bank’s emergency food program.
Schools also have helped financially. For example, many schools have conducted loose change collections to aid Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. While a confidentiality agreement prevents her from disclosing exactly how much each school was able to contribute, Annette Hakkinen, the Kenai Peninsula district director for the American Red Cross, said the total raised was in the ballpark of “a few thousand dollars.”
Hakkinen said she’s also hoping to get the schools involved with the Red Cross penny campaign and will meet with school district administrators later this week to discuss the idea. Collection jugs for spare change would be placed in each school, and the funds raised would stay in Alaska to help the Red Cross assist with the various emergencies that occur close to home.
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