While many people out there were scrambling with last minute holiday shopping and making sure everything would be perfect for their annual festivities during these past few weeks, students and staff across the Peekskill City School District were busy embracing the spirit of a “Caring Community” while trying to bring holiday cheer to others this season.
At Hillcrest Elementary, students in Emily Diaz’s 5th grade class spent a portion of their class time writing letters in both English and Spanish to 114 soldiers deployed all over the Middle East who were unable to return home to be with their families for the holidays. In their letters, the students thanked the soldiers for their sacrifices and for helping to protect our country’s freedoms.
Additionally, Diaz’s class also collected funds to buy toys for the children of two families who had been financially affected because a parent was deployed in the military. This project was over seen by Diaz and her “class parents” and was made possible by donations from her student’s parents.
“To tell you why my students and parents are reaching out is simple,” Diaz explained. “We believe the world is a better place when kindness is shown. I am teaching my students to analyze and speak up when something positive or negative happens. I want them to be self-aware that the world is a big place where they have a say in it, and what they choose to do has an impact on everyone. I am teaching them to do right and value what they have.”
To further encourage the spirit of giving throughout Hillcrest the school put up a “Giving Tree,” which was filled with over 20 ornament tags, each listing the toys that local children hoped to receive for Christmas. The project was supported by donations from Hillcrest staff, parents, support staff, administrators and the school’s principal.
The Giving Tree was facilitated by Hillcrest’s “Giving Tree Posse,” which was headed by Alisha Williams-McCorvey, Hillcrest’s Social Worker, and resulted in over 60 gifts being distributed to local families.
"At Hillcrest this year, we have a theme of giving and caring,” said Hillcrest’s Principal, Michelle Zernone. “Our Giving Tree is another example of our Hillcrest community coming together. We are warmed to the heart knowing we were able to make someone else's holiday a little brighter. This is yet again another fine example of how much Hillcrest students and staff does and how much we all care."
At Peekskill Middle School, teacher, Jenna Ferris helped to organize the school's Student Government's 4th Annual Toys for Tots drive, where students and staff contributed numerous toys which were then distributed to local children.
"The drive was a great success again this year, and we thank everyone for their support," Ferris said.
Across town at Oakside Elementary, students and staff were also focused on spreading holiday joy to area residents.
Oakside’s third grade teacher, Lynda Delmonico rallied her fellow staff members to donate small items, such as mugs, candy and scarves, to give away to residents at Westledge Nursing Home. The GIFTS (Giving It Back to Seniors) Project is in its second year and provides seniors not only with something to open on Christmas, but also gifts to give to their loved ones as well.
“Some of the residents don’t have family members to bring them anything on Christmas, and others can’t get out to buy their loved ones something,” Delmonico said. “The GIFTS Project isn’t just about giving to others; it’s about sharing with them the ability to give as well.”
And the GIFTS Project wasn’t the only kind of sharing going on at Oakside.
Just before the holiday break students from Oakside Elementary took their annual Winter Sing-a-Long show on the road when they stopped by Peekskill’s Field Library to sing holiday songs to a group of senior citizens who gather frequently at the library. The children’s chorus, which was led by their music teacher, Andrea Moffett, serenated their audience while the seniors enjoyed their lunch.
Students from Oakside also joined students from Hillcrest in visiting the Veterans Home at Montrose the week before Christmas. At each visit the children sang Christmas songs and handed out handmade holiday cards and candy canes to the Home’s residents. These two most recent visits were preceded by a visit from Woodside Elementary students who went to the home earlier in December.
“It’s always a pleasure to have the children come to sing here at the Home,” said Edward Kloos, the Home’s Director of Therapeutic Recreation & Volunteers. “Some of them don’t get a lot of visitors, and the holidays can be a lonely time. This really brightens [the residents’] day.”
The Peekskill students and staff who took part in these events all agreed that caring for others does not end when the holiday season does, and many look forward to continuing to do charitable work in the new year.
On January 5, Peekskill High School's Interact Club will be gathering at the Peekskill Salvation Army to serve lunch, as they always do on the first Saturday of the month, but this time they'll be accepting two donations from Cablevision's MSG Varsity, who is hosting a "Charity Champions" contest in which the club is taking part in.
Before lunch begins that Saturday Cablevision will be awarding the club a check for $500 for the Interact Club’s fundraising projects to help the Salvation Army, as well as a $1,000 check to the Salvation Army for participating in the program.
Stay tuned for more news on PHS's Interact Club who are in the running for an additional $5,000 through the contest, which if they win, will be used to support the local Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry.