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Christmas giveaway tradition continues

Community plays Santa for HWES students
Christmas giveaway tradition continues
Christmas giveaway tradition continues
Gunner Schneider, left, Juan Hernandez and Bentley Valentine-Stambaugh rifle through their gift bags Friday afternoon at Heth-Washington Elementary School during the annual Christmas giveaway. In addition to shoes, socks, gloves and hats, each student received a hoodie with the school logo, books and candy. Photo by Kaitlyn Clay
J.C. Lyell, Staff Writer, [email protected]

With so much excitement, joy and laughter at Heth-Washington Elementary School on Friday, you might have thought it was Christmas morning. It wasn’t just yet, but it sure felt like it as the school hosted its Christmas giveaway program for the sixth year in a row.

“This year, we were able to get hoodies, candy, shoes, hats, gloves, socks,” said Mike Kurz, school resource officer at HWES.

In addition to these items, each student also received fun gifts such as headphones or stuffed animals in holiday gift bags that were decorated by South Central Elementary School students.

HWES Principal Sue Lanham said Kurz and the school’s secretary and treasurer, Missy Wiseman, have been Santa’s elves behind the program each year since it was initiated by the two and then-principal Nissa Ellett (now principal at Corydon Elementary School) in 2014.

“It started because there were kids that didn’t have good shoes,” Wiseman said. “We’ve had to tape up or tie up shoes with strings; some were too small or too big. They just needed new shoes at first.”

After identifying the need, the school then asked the community to contribute to the cause. They set an initial goal of $6,000 that year that was eventually smashed to the tune of nearly $17,000. The windfall of donations led to an expansion of gifts given to students that has carried on to this year’s program.

Heth Washington Elementary School students share their gift findings with each other.
Lillian Schneider, left, and Julianna Rogers share their Christmas gift findings with each other. Photo by J.C. Lyell

“The money grew, and the blessings just kept coming,” Lanham said. “We’ve had anonymous donations; people would just leave stuff at the door.”

She said parents, many of whom attended the program with their children, are thankful because it helps take something off their plates and gives the kids something they want. It also helps free up parents’ budgets and might allow them to dive a little deeper into the children’s Christmas wish lists.

South Harrison Community School Corp. Supt. Dr. Mark Eastridge attended the program, where he said he was touched by the joy expressed by students.

“Santa Claus was here today. Santa Claus is love; he’s compassion,” he said. “Our community: that’s Santa Claus.”

Eastridge said some of the children might not experience a traditional Christmas day at home, so, for these students, the program could be the highlight of their holiday season.

He said he hopes the program will stick in students’ minds as they develop and teach them the value of giving.

“They’ll understand that’s just a part of life; you give and you care for others,” he said.