SCCTC student ambassadors (above, from left) Jeryn DeLong (carpentry), Morgan Aiken (health care), Joshua MacDonald (welding), and Shelby Funk (cosmetology) proudly display some of the gift items they helped to collect and sort for local families in need.
Photos and story by Rick Hiduk
(Also published in the Susquehanna County Independent)
After seven years of working together to fill Christmas wish lists and provide some food and clothing for local residents, this year’s student ambassadors of the Susquehanna County Career & Technology Center (SCCTC) experienced a bit of a Christmas miracle of their own. Contributions from local businesses allowed the students to double their seasonal outreach from 25 to 50 families.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the ambassadors, representing all departments of the Career Center’s curriculum, worked together and with their teachers to purchase, sort and wrap gifts. Trehab Community Action Agency enhanced the giving experience again by providing 28 frozen turkeys and other Christmas dinner fixings.
“Because of the additional support from the companies working us, we are able to provide for the most families ever,” said SCCTC executive director Alice Davis. Contributors included Jerry and Gail Burke of Shamrock Auctions, Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation, Meshoppen Stone, and Walmart, the latter providing gift cards for families at a discount to the school.
The families were referred to the program in a variety of ways. Some have students who attend SCCTC or Elk Lake Schools and were recommended by teachers. The student ambassadors discretely put some of their fellow students on the list. And, according to Davis, social media plays a bigger role each year in helping to identify families in need.
Some recipients are adult learners at SCCTC who have to make tough decisions at this time of the year between buying food, paying utilities, getting gifts for their families, and paying tuition. “They are trying to better themselves and are often stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Davis remarked.
An application was given to the heads of the families on which they simply listed the names of all adults and children in a household, their genders and ages, and some gifts that they would like to get for Christmas. While the names were maintained for filing purposes, each family was assigned a number to help maintain anonymity right down to the day they picked up the items from the school.
The student ambassadors adopted a blended family – three generations under one roof that includes a college student. The ambassadors had fun discussing what kinds of things a student would need while away at school and purchased gifts accordingly.
Participating adults tended to request items addressing more basic needs, such as clothes detergent, personal hygiene products and even paper towels. Many of them wrote on their forms to only give gifts to the children.
One at a time, over the course of this past week, a family member would meet Davis at the exterior door to her office, where they first received a large turkey. Once the turkey was in their vehicle, the recipient went back a door next to Davis’s office to a room that the students had set up to resemble a store. Each received a bag of food to compliment the turkey and then an empty bag in which they placed their selected gifts.
The toys were arranged by category, with Frozen-, LOL-, and Pokemon-themed items among this year’s favorites. Most remained unwrapped, while others had been wrapped by the students and were tagged for appropriate ages. That way, even the parents could be surprised as some of the gifts are opened at home. If the family did not have a vehicle available for pick-up, school administrators delivered the food and gifts in person.
Recipients are extremely appreciative of the food, Davis noted. One family told her that the turkey provides enough meat for numerous meals. Another said that the food enabled their family to host a Christmas dinner for other family members for the first time in many years.
Need is great at this time of the year, said Davis, which is why each family also got a list of local agencies such as Trehab, Careerlink, Veteran’s Education Assistance, the Community Foundation of the Endless Mountains, the County Assistance Office, the Commission on Economic Opportunity, and providers of housing assistance and rehabilitative services. “These are resources that can help them get through the winter,” Davis suggested.
SCCTC currently has about 20 ambassadors who provide a variety of services, including work on projects and giving tours of the school to prospective students and their families. This year, the Christmas Family program parallels a class project by senior Lizzie Hendrickson, tentatively called The Care Project. Students are preparing for a “soft opening” after the holidays of a closet in which the students will assemble and distribute clothing and personal care items for students and other members of the community by appointment based on need.