Fifth-graders make a local family’s Christmas brighter
by Susan O’Neill
KANELANDâ€”Brooke Simmons was one of five Kaneland John Shields Elementary School students chosen to pick out presents for a family adopted by fifth-graders through the Holiday Spirit program. She and the other students joined their teachers on Friday afternoon to purchase presents with money collected by the students.
Brooke said she does not know the family that will receive the gifts, nor does she need to know. What she imagines are the smiles on their faces as they open their presents on Christmas Day.
Fellow student Lexie Guerra said the family they adopted includes a mom and dad, a 5-year-old girl and a 7-year-old boy. She and the other shoppers had a list of some of the things the family wanted, along with their sizes. She said that some of the items the children asked for, such as jackets and pants, made her think about the fact that not everyone has the things that she and her friends take for granted.
In addition to the clothes for the children, the girls bought twin baby dolls for the girl, and the boys bought Legos for the boy. Zach Woodward said they had fun picking out a Legos starter kit and a Legos police kit.
The teachers purchased gift cards for the parents.
Fifth-grade teacher Dan Rutter said that he and the other teachers were inspired by fourth-grade teacher Lee Hoover. She has motivated the students in her classes for years to participate in Holiday Spirit by choosing several children at random to go shopping with her and join her for dinner afterward.
Rutter said that, given that there were 116 fifth-graders, the teachers set a goal of $150. However, the students quickly surpassed that.
Although they were told they could collect money from others to donate, many of the students gave their own money. Some children donated the money they earned doing chores or babysitting; others emptied out their pockets; some like Brooke, relinquished the money she received from her birthday.
â€œThe money just came flowing in every day,â€ Rutter said. â€œThe kids wanted to do it themselves.â€
Lexie said she was happy to know that she and the other students in her class were part of giving someone else a reason to be excited about Christmas.
â€œI know they’re getting important stuff that they actually need,â€ she said.
Photo: Kaneland John Shields Elementary School fifth graders and teachers wrapped up a shopping trip last Friday, when they used the money collected from the students to purchase clothes and a few toys for a family they adopted through Holiday Spirit.
Holiday Spirit reaches into the community
Holiday Spirit was created to help Kaneland area families who are experiencing financial crises during the holiday season, Kaneland John Shields social worker Nicole Pryor said.
A parent may have lost a job, an illness or other tragedy may have presented serious financial challenges, or families may have lost their homes.
A joint effort between the Kaneland School District, service and professional organizations, churches and local businesses, as well as Conley Outreach and West Towns Human Services, the Holiday Spirit will help 55 families this year, Pryor said.
Some of the money is raised through events such as Breakfast with Santa during Sugar Grove’s Holiday in the Grove. In addition, school grades, such as the ones at Kaneland John Shields; clubs and organizations, such as local Brownie troops; area churches, banks and pre-schools adopt one or more families for the Christmas holiday.
Pryor said the focus is mainly on the children, and families receive needed clothing for them, along with a few toys. Gift cards may also be purchased for the adults, including gift cards for gasoline.