'Tis better to give than to receive, the adage goes, and charitable deeds are a major theme of the Christmas season.
Schools play a big role in such charity both as community gathering points and as models for the next generation. This time of year, teachers, support staff, students, parents, businesses and community service groups are working together to help needy families in the central Kenai Peninsula.
Young children get caught up December's magic, and part of the thrill is doing good deeds for others. In elementary schools, students are buying goodies for Mommy and Daddy at special "shops." And children as young as preschoolers are making arts and crafts projects for parents and grandparents to treasure in the coming years.
But for adults and older students, the emphasis is on helping those outside the family.
Canned food drives are popular. Many schools have "angel trees" decorated with gift-buying tips about children or families facing bleak holidays without assistance. Other collections are under way for everything from mittens to money.
"We have a box in front of my office," said Kellie Kelso, the school secretary at North Star Elementary School in Nikiski.
Her school is part of a com-munitywide effort coordinating with the Nikiski Neighbors service organization to make sure North Road families have what they need to make it through the dark, cold months.
This month, the school is collecting winter clothing.
Kelso noted that employees from BP donated money and the peninsula Moose Lodge donated substantially to the effort.
"They gave lots of hats and gloves," she said. "It is really nice to see people coming through."
Families have many opportunities to work with the schools as either donors or recipients.
At Soldotna Middle School, the staff is coordinating assistance for seven families connected with the school.
"We try to do it every year. We try to find families who are really hurting," said school nurse Nancy MacVie.
"We try to supplement so the boxes we give them are well-rounded."
The school collects food through a drive, adds gifts students and their families purchase from recommendations on the angel tree and fill in the gaps using money raised from one of the schools Fortnightly socials. The intent is to not only cover needs, but to include items as present surprises.
So far, the drive is going well.
"Our angels have all graciously been taken," she said.
MacVie noted that the Ladies Auxiliary of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Soldotna has made grants to the schools to assist this year and merchants have been generous.
Older students take direct roles in the good works.
At Kenai Central High School, in addition to the angel tree and canned food drive, the Skills USA VICA club, which promotes vocational education, is collecting used toys.
Freshman Rocky Ward is organizing the new project. The suggestion came from the club's faculty adviser, Walt Ward, who also happens to be his father.
"It's going pretty good so far," the younger Ward said.
The club, which has about 10 members actively involved, plans to keep collecting through Dec. 21, and then spend the weekend before Christmas having a marathon toy-repairing party.
"We are giving them to the Women's Resource and Crisis Center and some to The Salvation Army," he said.
At the high schools, student councils sponsor the canned food drives, often turning them into competitive events involving the different classes.
Four-year-old Christian Stanfield, 4, a preschooler at Sears Elementary School in Kenai, has an arm-load of gifts he picked out Tuesday at the school's Santa's Secret Shop.
Photo by JAY BARRETT
Soldotna High School teacher and student council adviser Sharon Moock said the holiday food drives have been going on "near unto forever."
The school is working with the Share the Spirit community charity project via The Salvation Army and Bridges. The canned food drive is gearing up this week for a grand finale Friday, she said.
Incentives make a difference, she said.
Sometimes in the past, the competitive side has gained so much momentum it has interfered with the charitable aspects. This year, the school has toned that down, she said.
First-hour classes are competing, however, to see which room can generate the most food. This year, participating students can win raffled gift certificates, and when enough cans are coming in the high-roller classes for each day earn breakfast donuts.
"They get donuts brought to them first hour the next day," she said.
Such projects make a big difference to the receiving organizations.
Workers at the Kenai Penin-sula Food Bank, for example, said they love dealing with student groups.
The food bank hosts tours year-round, but classes are especially likely to come during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons. And when they do come, they often bring hundreds of pounds of food and lend a hand, as well. Even young children can help bag beans and wrap cheese.
Warehouse manager Linda Kendall said they are expecting Cooper Landing Elementary School children to come for lunch. The group, organized by teacher Sheryl Sotelo, packages customized soup mixes and makes place mats and cards for the food bank clientele.
And the high school canned food is a big boost for the organization, said administrative assistant Pam Olson.
The schools contribute thousands of much-needed cans every December, she said.
"They take care of all of it themselves," she said.
"Every holiday they have been wonderful. ... It really does make a good contribution."
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