GENESEE COUNTY, Michigan—Snow days are not the only gifts that Genesee County schools bestow during the holiday season. Here are some of the ways schools dole out generosity throughout the year and in time for the holiday season.
Best Food Forward Holiday Giveaway
The Westwood Heights school district launched its Best Food Forward program in October just in time for Thanksgiving and intends to do so again for Christmas. The program intends to help counter community hunger for the district’s 16,000 students and their families by offering grains, produce, and other grocery goods. The two-year program is led by the Michigan Department of Education in partnership with the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan.
It’s a way of supporting students even outside of the classroom and attending to their basic needs, especially during breaks and holidays, said Superintendent Peter Toal during an interview with NBC 25 at the Best Food Forward ribbon cutting in Oct. 29.
Before the close of 2019, the school district will host its holiday food giveaway in partnership with Best Food Forward Thursday, Dec. 19 at 2 p.m. at Hamady middle and high school and again at 6:30 p.m. at McMonagle Elementary School. The food giveaways will follow concerts filled with student band, choir, and drama performances.
Food Pantries, Wish Lists, and a Holiday Party for All
In their partnership with the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan, Bentley Community Schools host a food pantry right out of Bentley High School, allowing for truckloads of food to be distributed to families in the parking lot.
The school district is able to initiate a variety of food-giveaway programs that address food insecurity and nutrition like the Backpack Program. Up to 25 families facing food insecurity are sent a backpack full of food every Friday. Because of the pantry, Bentley High School as given out over 50,000 pounds of food this year alone.
For families needing food assistance through the holidays, Bentley Community Schools find sponsors to adopt over 50 families by buying them Christmas presents. So far 132 students should expect presents from their school district catered directly to their wish lists.
And since the holiday season is a call for festivities, Bentley National Honor Society and the high school student The Bentley holiday party on Dec. 12 allowed parents a free evening to do their holiday shopping and have those gifts wrapped by participating high school students. council orchestrated their first annual community-wide holiday party for third graders to seniors at Bentley high school. Cookie decorating, crafts, games, babysitting, movies, and face-painting ushered in the holiday spirit for the 40 children that attended Thursday, Dec. 12. The event allowed parents a free evening to do their holiday shopping and have those gifts wrapped by participating students.
Cool to Care and Holiday Adopt-a-Family
In the first week of December, Davison Community Schools take busloads of canned goods to Outreach East, a non-denominational emergency resource center that gives aid to families throughout the year. The canned food drive is done in combination with a fundraising campaign put on by Davison’s high school marketing club, DECA.
“In addition, we typically raise $5,000 to $7,000 for Outreach. Our students sort the items and do all the heavy lifting when it comes to delivering them,” said Michelle Edwards, director of public information at Davison Community Schools.
For the past two decades, Davison schools have also facilitated an assistance program that ensures that about 200 families are given gifts from a wish list. Local organizations, churches, student groups, sports teams, and churches come together to make it happen every year.
Annual JCPenney Gift Certificates, Tailgates, and an alumni Christmas Concert at the Whiting
Throughout the year, Kearsley Community Schools hold fundraisers, as part of the Kearsley Christmas Charity initiative, with the sole purpose of providing JCPenney gift cards for families that still have items left on their Christmas lists.
“Last year, the Kearsley staff and students donated $15,850 in JCPenney gift certificates to families and also provided several thousand dollars of toys to those same families,” said Kearsley Superintendent Kevin Walworth.
Through their Kearsley Christmas Charity tailgate, a feast-sized dinner is also served to the community by school district administrators. In 2018, over 161 families were impacted by their charity initiatives, said Walworth.
The charity initiatives show how the Kearsley community is able to come together for the holidays. This was especially the case when it came to this year's annual Kearsley alumni choir concert where more than 300 hundred former students participated. The question of hosting such a large concert was exciting, but also a cause for concern.
“We couldn’t host a concert of this size in our auditorium so we looked into the availability of the Whiting,” said Walworth. “Next came the price tag of over $5,000 to rent the facility.”
In a matter of days, the Kearsley alumni collaborated and posted a GoFundMe page, raising the money needed to hold the concert at Whiting Auditorium on Saturday, December 14.
“It feels like a Mr. Holland’s Opus kind of story,” said Walworth.
This piece was written as part of an underwriting series with Genesee Intermediate School District to promote an understanding of county-wide educational programming.