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2019 ELF program assisted 14 families

J.C. Lyell, Staff Writer, [email protected]

The holiday season is a time for giving, and that’s the attitude officials at Lanesville Community School Corp. are trying to instill in its students with the Embracing Lanesville Families (ELF) program.

The program started in 2006 with a mission to raise funds and collect canned goods for Lanesville families in need.

Lanesville Junior-Senior High School counselor Robin Morgan said the idea came after hearing that a student was heading home to wrap empty boxes so no one would know they did not have gifts under the family’s Christmas tree.

“In talking to the (LJSHS) principal at the time, Mrs. Janet Page, we decided to start a program to provide food and presents to families in our school who needed the extra help,” Morgan said.

For 2019’s ELF program, its 14th year running, students, teachers, parents, staff and local service organizations raised nearly $11,000, in addition to a $1,500 contribution from a local business.

Steve Morris, superintendent of the corporation and principal at LJSHS, said the program supported 14 Lanesville families with 38 children between them.

“The money raised pays for the food (turkey, fresh fruit, flour, sugar, milk, eggs) that is given to each family each year along with donated canned goods,” he said.

St. Mary Catholic Church’s Breaking Bread Food Pantry in Lanesville collects canned goods for the program, and Morris said its donations reached about 2,000 pounds in 2019.

“(The money) also pays for our shopping trip to Meijer for the kids in which we spent $8,000 on clothing, shoes and toys,” he said.

Monetary donations for 2019 were among the highest totals since the program’s inception while canned food donations were down.

“Our goal for each year is to raise a comparable amount to what we spend on gifts and to have a balance to use on situations throughout the year,” he said. “Our ELF fund is primarily for Christmas, but we also use the dollars to support individual family needs throughout the year (paying an electric bill, purchasing shoes, etc.).

“We also use the funds to provide gift cards to families with special needs like the death of a parent or a family member suffering from a serious illness,” he said.

Morgan said all of the corporation’s students, K-12, participate in the program.

“We have fun, school-wide incentives for reaching goals which, again, this year we exceeded in money collections,” she said.

Student councils at all levels assist in sorting and boxing canned goods, and leftover donations stock the food pantry’s shelves. The councils also plan the ELF wrap-up ceremony and other activities such as Gingerbread House competitions.

After all donations were collected, students were invited to the shopping trip on a Saturday morning.

Morris said 45 students participated.

“It is a great learning experience for our students when we shop at Meijer,” Morris said. “They are given a list of items to shop for and a budget; our shoppers must figure out how they can spend their $225 budget of clothes and toys.”

Another highlight, Morris said, is the day the families, or others on their behalf, pick up the donations at the school.

“I have a group of my friends from (Northside Christian Church in New Albany) who volunteer their time to load the food and gifts,” he said. “The recipients are amazed at what they receive, and to see the joy expressed makes all the effort worthwhile.”

Morgan said she has worked at other schools, but, when she joined the Lanesville community, it was like gaining an extended family.

“When times are hard or a family is struggling due to hardships such as illness, the entire community, including the school, steps up to surround that family with love, prayers and whatever assistance they need, including financial,” she said.

The program, she said, has volunteers and donors from all parts of the community, including school children, parents, faculty, staff and local churches, businesses and families.

As its name suggests, Morgan said, ELF embraces the families who need it most.

“Everyone involved is truly blessed by the experience,” she said. “Our hopes are to continue this program for many more years.”