Most people think of Santa Claus as a big man with a white beard and a red suit. But perhaps Santa is a Tiger, the kind at North Allegheny Senior High School in McCandless.
Since 2009, the school’s students have provided Christmas presents for the youths at Glade Run’s Residential Treatment Facility in Zelienople.
Art teacher Fran Hawbaker, adviser for the Student Council, which coordinates the Santa Stocking Project, said students granted holiday wishes for 86 youths in December.
She said each homeroom got a youth’s first name and a wish list – a “need,” a “want,” a therapeutic item and a gift-card request.
“Typically, two or three kids in each class take charge,” Hawbaker said. They collect money from their classmates to buy the items.
“In most cases, they buy more than what’s on the list,” Hawbaker said.
The teacher said she promotes the project heavily, as do the students who are most involved. “I really make an effort to educate them about it,” she said. “It’s kids talking to other kids.”
In addition to the homerooms, other groups from the school community also fill stockings. For example, assistant football coach Mike Buchert takes 10 or 12 stockings each year for players to fill.
Junior Jessica Hood, 17, of McCandless said the Santa Stocking Project is “the most memorable charitable event we do here at NA because it is personal.” “Each homeroom knows their child’s name, age and what they like, so they can personally relate to the child and figure out what gifts would make their Christmas great,” she said.
Hood, the Student Council’s corresponding sergeant of arms and Service Committee officer, said students provided more than $10,000 worth of gifts this year.
“Waking up on Christmas morning and knowing that the child they provided for that year got gifts that morning makes the personal factor even greater,” she said. “It is not a normal charity drive in which students bring in gifts for any child for the Christmas season. Knowing specifically who we are providing for makes this charity event special.”
Girls from Glade Run frequently ask for makeup and nail kits, hair accessories and clothing, while boys usually ask for athletic equipment, MP3 players, board games and clothing, Hood said.
“North Allegheny students should make an effort to help others and participate in this project because we are all very fortunate, even though we might not realize it sometimes,” she said. “Especially during the Christmas season, it is important that we give back to those who don’t have as much.”
Hawbaker said the NA students make donations solely to help Glade Run’s youths.
“There’s no contest (within the school). It’s just the kindness of their hearts. It’s all volunteering, money out of their pockets,” she said.
Glade Run officials chose North Allegheny Senior High School for the organization’s Knight of the Kingdom award in 2012 because of the students’ “contribution of time, talent and treasure to youths served by Glade Run,” Sheila Talarico, executive director of the Glade Run Foundation, said.
“Frances Hawbaker has taken over this program in conjunction with her Student Council from Patty Dzambo. Fran is amazing. We’re so grateful to her,” Talarico said. “Also, the gifts from NA are very special because we have teens choosing gifts for teens, so they are always perfect for our youths. The stockings are also unique; they take the time to paint each child’s name on a stocking that they will have forever.”
Madelyn Dinnerstein is a communications professional who previously worked for Trib Total Media, where she last was a weeklies editor whose job included being the primary editor for the North Journal and McKnight Journal newspapers. An enthusiastic juggler, she has volunteered as a juggling instructor for youths in Glade Run Lutheran Services’ residential treatment facility since 2001. Recently, she has been helping with public relations for Glade Run on a volunteer basis, as well.