Holmes students open hearts, wallets for others
Holmes School fourth graders (from left) Julez Triplett, Amiya Rogers and Owen Arnold wrap presents bought with the money they raised for the Holiday Gift Basket program. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 30, 2012 6:21AM
OAK PARK — For the past several holiday seasons, Holmes School office staff members Lori Krikau and Margaret O’Malley have adopted a needy family through the Holiday Food and Gift Basket program.
This year, Krikau and O’Malley thought, if a little largesse is good, how much better if they could involve the entire school?
“We had such great success when we do it as a staff,” said Krikau. “So we brought in (school social worker) Maria Pascarella to see if we could expand the sponsorship.”
Indeed it was.
“It’s been phenomenal,” Krikau said of the response.
This year, Holmes students from kindergarten through fifth grade will sponsor an additional 12 families, providing them with gifts and gift cards.
“We have the teachers talk about it with their students,” Krikau said.
Explaining why Santa isn’t bringing every boy and girl toys takes a bit of finessing, but in a nutshell, the story line goes that Santa gives those children gifts, but needs a bit of help in some cases.
“There was an overwhelming response,” Krikau said. “We had piggy banks dumped into envelopes.”
Fourth grade teacher Cate Terco suggested a $5 donation, but there were donations as high as $25. Her 21 students gave $180, the second best class figure behind the kindergarten, which raised $190.
“I had two kids who literally dumped their wallets on my desk,” Terco said.
Some kids, Kirkau said, decided to do extra chores to increase the amount of money their parents would donate. She said she was amazed at how so many young children empathized with others, saying, “For a 5-year-old to understand this is amazing.”
Terco’s 21 fourth grade students were particularly struck by the limits of what the three children asked for as Christmas gifts, things many take for granted.
“They requested sweat suits and gloves, things like that,” she said.
The students don’t know the identity of the family they’re helping, just the ages of the three children - 5, 9 and 11 years old.
Over the Thanksgiving weekend Terco’s “room parents,” cash and gift list in hand, went shopping with some of the students. On Monday, they brought their haul to the classroom, where Krikau and five of Terco’s students wrapped and labeled items that included a radio/tape player, pajamas, slippers, boots, an umbrella, a basketball and several gift cards.
As he worked, student Owen Arnold offered a bit of Christmas wisdom.
“I really don’t think they’ll care about how this thing is wrapped,” he said. “They’ll just be happy to get the gift.”
Krikau smiled, but continued supervising. She said she’s particularly satisfied that this year the Holmes students are learning what she and her colleagues already know – that the joy of the holiday season lays in the giving.
“Feel good?,” Krikau said. “It does. Oh, gosh yeah.”
Her students agreed.
“It feels like, I’m proud to do this for another family,” said classmate Julia Anton.
Gift Basket coordinator Patty Henek said school children are a big part of her annual effort to help more than 900 needy families – 2,200 people in total – throughout Oak Park and River Forest.
“I think it’s awesome. The fact that they’re at such a young age and willing and excited to do this is great,” she said.
Students at Julian Middle School are helping out some 60 families this holiday season. At Oak Park-River Forest High School, she said, students are donating to around 40 families, while OPRF staff and faculty are giving to additional families.
Henek said all the gifts will be delivered by volunteers on Dec. 8 to families throughout Oak Park. Her organization will add food gift cards valued from $25 to $70 to each delivery, depending on the size of the family.
Henek said people can donate money for the food gift cards by either contacting email@example.com, or sending a check to:
Holiday Food & Gift Basket, P.O. Box 3365, Oak Park, IL 60303.