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Christmas comes early for HWES students

Christmas comes early for HWES students
Christmas comes early for HWES students
Lilly Nugent, a third-grader at Heth-Washington Elementary School, shows off a new pair of Reebok tennis shoes she received last week as part of a school-wide shoes, snow boots, hat, socks, a hoodie, Chapstick and candy. The school received nearly $17,000 in donations from the community. Photos by Alan Stewart

The holiday classic ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ doesn’t include 182 bags filled with two pairs of shoes, one pair of gloves, a hoodie, sockhat, candy and Chapstick spread across an Indiana gym floor, but each student at Heth-Washington Elementary School received those items last week in a display of the holiday spirit in Harrison County.
What started as a relatively simple request to try to get shoes for the students and a relatively meager goal of raising $6,000 turned into an explosion of donations to the tune of nearly $17,000. Donations came from individuals in the community, churches, businesses, school staff members and anyone else who had a few bucks to spare.
Seventy-five percent of the students’ families are at or below the poverty rate, HWES Principal Nissa Ellett said. Multiple times this year she’s had to repair shoes using duct tape.
Deputy Mike Kurz of the Harrison County Sheriff’s Dept., who serves as the school’s resource officer, said he’s had to do the same thing.
‘We have extra items on hand in case a student has an accident or something happens, and, one day, I had a child come in and say he would be good the entire year if he could have a pair of shoes that we had,’ Ellett said. ‘That’s what started all of this. I realized that we had a problem and a need.’
She sent home a flyer with students asking for help and made a request on Facebook. In no time, she said, donations were pouring in. One business made a last-minute donation of $500 worth of toys, which were distributed mostly to preschoolers (since the toys were age-appropriate for that group of students) and the last few toys went to a family whose mother is a registered nurse and attending school while supporting six children.
‘After the preschool toys were given away, the toys that were left matched up perfect with the children’s’ ages in a family that had a need,’ Ellett said. ‘I couldn’t believe it. I called the mom and told her to come visit us because we had something for them. Obviously, she was very appreciative.’
At least 67 individuals, eight churches, five businesses, two trustees and even another school donated to the cause.
‘I’m not from Harrison County originally, and the amount of love and outpouring that this community shows is incredible to me. It’s so moving. It’s all about the kids. The community and the way they’ve embraced the school and the needs of the kids, it’s just mind boggling,’ Ellett said. ‘I don’t know if it’s possible to paint a picture of what a loving, caring community we actually live in and what that means to the students. I think they can feel it and they know it, and I think that helps them to become better learners. Their needs are being met so that frees them up to focus on what’s important, and that’s their education. I can’t thank the community enough.’
To keep the money local, shoes were purchased from Shoe Show and snow boots were purchased from Shoe Sensation, both in Corydon, and hoodies came from Kellum Imprints in Ramsey. The rest of the goodies were purchased at the Walmart Supercenter in Corydon.
On Thursday afternoon, in a rock-show setting with Christmas music blaring and laser lights dancing across the walls, students were led into the gymnasium. Bags with the students’ names were laid in neat lines across the court. Following a few announcements and thank you’s from Ellett, the students yelled a collective ‘Thank you!’ to some of the donors who were sitting in the bleachers.
After a countdown, students tore into their bags and, within seconds, were cheering, laughing and showing off their bounty to fellow classmates, teachers and parents.
‘It was like watching 182 Christmases at once,’ Dr. Mark Eastridge, superintendent of the South Harrison Community School Corp., said.
Jenna Timberlake, a third-grader, said the goodies were ‘awesome.’
‘My favorite thing would have to be the little chocolate vanilla snowman, oh, and the shoes; don’t forget the shoes,’ she said. ‘But I like the boots better because they are girl camo.’
Her twin brother, James, also said the candy was his favorite.
When asked what he would tell someone who donated, James replied, ‘I’d thank them for all they have done and would give them a big hug, too, and would try to give them something back.’
Each student was given a choice of three styles of shoes to choose from.
Abbigail Langford, another third-grader, concurred with the Timberlake twins, with her favorite items being the candy and the shoes. Now, she just needs something for the boots: ‘I wish it would snow. We haven’t had snow in forever, and that would be awesome!’ she said.