Students learn about giving during holidays

Learning how to give is one lesson teachers at Ashland's schools hope children will take home during the holiday season. Schools, parents and the community have come up with some creative ways to make a difference and have a little fun along the way.

At Bellview Elementary, parents Allison Hamik and Serena Robinson started a Winter Love Boxes program this year to help out families identified by the school with gifts for the children and holiday meals for the entire family.

The women got the idea from a similar program at their church and requested each classroom donate two presents and two different food items. One classroom brought in potatoes and gravy, and another cranberry sauce and green beans, for example.

The gifts and food will be packaged with stockings full of toiletries and other necessities and delivered next week. They will provide gifts to 17 families, including 40 children, Hamik said.

"I thought we could focus on Bellview families because there are a lot of families in need and we have a lot of severely ill children in our schools right now," she said. "I'm hoping that it's going to be a new tradition at Bellview."

Bellview participates in Toys for Tots, as do teachers at both Helman Elementary and Ashland Middle School, who buy toys for a staff gift exchange. Toys are donated to the charity at the end of the evening.

At the middle school, students collected food in their annual Thanksgiving can drive, with University of Oregon Ducks and Oregon State University Beavers fans competing to bring in the most food. Despite their loss in the Civil War game, the Beavers fans "won" the food drive, and the school as a whole collected more than one ton of food, said Abdi Guled, youth advocate at the middle school. Students will continue to collect food through Dec. 17, he said.

The school also collects gifts for teenagers at the Dunn House and other local shelters through their giving tree, said Jody Bradley, middle school child development specialist.

"It is really important to model for them how we do need to take care of each other," she said. "It's a really critical time. Adolescence is a time of a lot of self-centeredness and focus on self and friends. It is wonderful and adorable how exited the students get about finding causes or raising funds or bring in toys."

Outside groups such as Gracepoint Church and Greenleaf Restaurant are also making contributions to help needy families with children at the middle school.

"People get really surprised that Ashland has needy families, but we have quite a few," Bradley said. "The thing that's wonderful is that the community is beginning to really realize we need to take care of our own here. We have kids that don't have coats and families that can't pay the heat bill. It's a struggle."

The church has provided gifts to groups in the past such as migrant workers and families with a parent in prison, but this year they decided to look closer to home.

"We're just next door and we thought, 'Why don't we see if we can help out,'" said Jim Curty, lead pastor at the church. "We'd like as a church to make a difference in our community. We just want to let people know that we care. It's not about them attending here, but we feel like we ought to make a difference, so we're going to."

Daniel Greenblatt, owner of Greenleaf, began a new "Gift of Giving Event" for the school at the suggestion of his restaurant manager Traci White.

Greenleaf will donate 10 percent of every ticket for patrons who mention Ashland Middle School on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays through Dec. 17 with the exception of Dec. 8.

The Ashland Schools Foundation suggested donating to the middle school as the place with the greatest need, but Greenblatt said he will continue to donate proceeds to other schools or community organizations in a similar fashion after the holidays.

"The need never goes away," he said. "I mean, wow, the need is increasing every day. Now that the economy is collapsing, the need is greater and the resources are shrinking."

At Ashland High School, students are collecting canned food for the Ashland Emergency Food Bank and gifts for Toys for Tots in their annual drives. Freshman Elias Opgenorth is also trying to organize a pancake breakfast on the quad, with all proceeds going to ACCESS, Inc. The leadership class he is in had plenty of pancake mix left over from the senior sleepover, and Opgenorth saw the perfect opportunity to make a difference with a $1 meal.

"People love pancakes," he said, and, "it's an important thing to do to raise money around the holidays for people who are less fortunate, if they need financial help or food."

Reed Sorensen, who teaches the class and helps students organize fundraisers throughout the year, said his students come up with great ideas to help the community.

"It's kind of nice to have a forum for kids to think of others other than themselves, to put other people first," he said. "Almost all of it is self-initiated; I'm here to guide them."

Staff writer Julie French can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or

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