LINGLE – Two Lingle-Fort Laramie Elementary classes are reaching out into the larger community to share a bit of the holiday spirit this year.
Independently of each other, Rachel Gibson’s third graders and Eva Hayes fifth-grade students came up with community service projects to help people far from home. Third graders assembled and sent off Christmas stockings to troops stationed overseas while the fifth-grade class made tied fleece blankets for kids who’ll be spending Christmas at Denver Children’s Hospital.
“Every year, I do Christmas Around the World,” Gibson said. “Every year, I try to do something that’s a little different.”
Her Christmas Around the World looks at holiday observances in different cultures. In the past, students would choose a culture or country and research the different holiday traditions. At the end of the unit, the students would each bring in a food item reflecting that culture so their classmates could get a taste.
This year, after getting to know several soldiers and soldier’s families, Gibson decided to see if her students wanted to take a slightly different approach to the project.
“I got the idea of doing the same project but reaching out to soldiers stationed overseas who aren’t going to be home for the holidays,” Gibson said.
Likewise, L-FL Elementary Library Aide Denise Jackson had in her mind to have students write letters to kids who were stuck in the hospital during the holidays. After contacting Denver Children’s volunteer coordinator, she learned – since paper can’t be sanitized – letters wouldn’t be an option. But there was something the Doggers could do to help.
“She said, ‘It’s so awesome your kids want to get involved,’” Jackson said. “The hospital gives away about 100 tied fleece blankets every week. She asked if that was something the kids would like to do? These kids were all over it.”
After figuring the cost for the blankets at about $18 apiece for materials, the students drafted an email Jackson sent to Superintendent Ryan Kramer in November, asking permission to host a fundraiser. They sold teachers the right to wear jeans to school for $5 and, for $1, fellow students could wear a hat to school one day.
The students set a goal to raise $180 – enough for material for 10 blankets, Jackson said. What happened was beyond their wildest dreams.
“We raised more than $400,” she said. “I was able to get material for 20 blankets.”
Along with some donated materials and a lot of volunteer time from adults both in and outside the school, students made and tied a total of 22 blankets, which Jackson delivered to the hospital on Sunday.
Gibson’s students, too, hosted a blue jean and hat day to raise money for their Christmas stocking project. Parents were given the option to either donate snacks or toiletries for the soldiers, or money which Gibson used to buy items for the boxes. Extra money, once all the supplies were purchased, was set aside to help pay shipping costs for the care packages.
A handful of the third-graders, including McKynsie Samson, 8, had an added incentive – they were able to send a package directly to a family member or friend who is currently deployed. McKynsie sent hers to her uncle, Earl.
“I thought this was going to be fun,” McKynsie said. “I liked stuffing the stockings.”
Classmate Kane Correa, 9, said filling the stockings and gift boxes was also his favorite part of the project.
“It’s a good idea to help the soldiers out,” Kane said.
“The kids knew we were going to do Christmas Around the World, reading about different countries, food traditions, decorations, how they celebrate,” Gibson said. “When it came to actually determining the project, I asked, ‘What do you think about adopting a soldier and sending them a gift?’ They were extremely enthusiastic.”
The toughest part for Gibson was organizing the shipping and customs requirements for packages going to other lands. She had to fill out special customs forms for each package, listing the contents and the weight and cost of each item included, and making sure the addresses were correct. One mistake and they risked having a package returned.
“There’s been a lot of work on my part, going through every item and putting down the weight,” Gibson said. “But it’s been totally worth it.”
Jackson and her students, too, said the effort of making the tied blankets for Denver Children’s has been well worth it.
“There were a bunch of people who helped,” said fifth-grader Madison Hatch, 11. “I thought the idea was awesome – I have a tied blanket and I love it.”
And while the adults definitely helped, it was the young Doggers who did most of the work, she said. And that made the projects that much more satisfying.
“It’s really fun doing all the work, just because it’s helping people,” Madison said. “I like doing that. Usually the adults do all the work, but now, we get to do the work.”