Champion students show true Christmas spirit

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Champion School students pick out a turkey to fill a Christmas hamper while shopping at Market Street Vulcan.

VULCAN – Busloads of Champion School students were let loose in Vulcan for an afternoon shopping spree. Unlike most shoppers filling Christmas wish lists, however, the students were looking for presents to brighten the holidays for complete strangers.

Palliser’s kindergarten to Grade 9 school raised $680 through a one-day bottle drive, with the goal of helping fill Christmas hampers for needy area families. Principal Jody Beagle says providing students with cash and a list of unnamed recipients to buy groceries and presents for was designed to personalize the gift-giving experience.

“I think the biggest thing is realizing there are people outside of their own world, outside their own community, who need support, and learning to give to them,” she says. “It’s pretty hard to go into a store and buy a toy for another child that you really want for yourself but have to give it away. And some of these kids are in Grade 1, so it’s not that easy.”

The 48 students who took part in the bottle drive were divided into groups – each with a mix of younger and older students – and then sent to grocery, gift, hardware and dollar stores in Vulcan. The excitement grew as the big day approached, says Beagle.

“That’s why we do it in the afternoon, so they can focus on their schoolwork for most of the day,” she says of the shopping spree.  “There are some students who are a little disappointed that they aren’t going, but the reality is this is part of the privilege of doing the initial roundup.”

In addition to groceries they purchased at Market Street Vulcan, the students dropped off food donated at the school earlier in the year. Although this is ninth year the school of 88 students has raised money to help with Christmas hampers, its efforts were particularly welcome this year.

The Vulcan Regional Food Bank Society has seen an increased demand this year. When the economy was better, it handed out about 20 hampers a month.

“I would say we are doing at least 10 hampers more a month, and for us that’s quite a bit,” says director Carrol Thomson, of the Vulcan and Region Family and Community Support Services (FCSS).

Last Christmas the food bank and FCSS office, which share some staff, provided 80 Christmas hampers. With applications still coming in, it’s expected they’ll exceed those numbers this year.

Each hamper includes either a ham or turkey with all the trimmings, as well as assorted sweets and coupons for fresh produce.  Every family member also gets at least one gift. Local residents are invited to take an ornament off the Wish Tree – this year located at Furniture Villa – and shop for the unnamed recipient, listed by age, gender and interests.

While county residents have always been very generous with their donations, Thomson says it’s especially nice to see youth step up to help.

“I think that’s fantastic and that sets a theme for their whole life,” she says, adding it’s a “heart-warming” experience when the students come in. “They are so excited and they get to see the food bank and maybe realize they are a lot more fortunate than a lot of kids are.”

Thomson says students like those from Champion School are great at buying age-appropriate gifts since they’re basically picking out what they like.

Grade 2 student Hayden Reed was tasked with finding a gift for a dad at the Home Hardware store. He had fun picking out a fancy screwdriver and says the experience helped get him into the Christmas spirit.

Avery Cummins says she got some gift ideas for her own family after her group bought lip balm, hand cream and other items at Flowers N Fancies. The Grade 6 student picked out a thick, soft tuque, mitten and scarf set for a mom.

“I think it’s really important that we get to give this to people who are less fortunate than we are,” says Avery. “I’m just hoping they accept the gifts we give them and that they find a good way to put them into use.”