With great enthusiasm and generous spirits, St. Stephen’s Catholic School students and families gathered hundreds of pounds of food and personal hygiene items to be given to local families in need this holiday season. Each student also donated a dollar or two for fresh meat certificates which are also included in the baskets.
The school’s annual Christmas Basket project culminated Dec. 5 when students sorted and packaged the items.
More than 400 students participated in the food drive, according Susie Toenjes, fourth-grade teacher at the school and organizer of the annual drive, which has been going on at the school for more than three decades.
“St. Stephen’s School is teaching and modeling the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy,” Toenjes said,
A committee of teachers planned the service projects for Advent, which this year also included a Teens for Jeans project, she said.
That project, a community service project organized by Aeropostale clothing store, had students collecting gently used pairs of blue jeans to be given to teens in need.
“We are also going to have an assortment set aside in a private room and if parents want or need a pair of jeans they will be able to get them,” Toenjes said.
Amy Chabot, pastoral care director at St. Stephen’s, said 26 families will be served this year, thanks to the generosity of students and families donating to the Christmas Basket program.
In addition, Chabot said, 55 more families from the St. Stephen’s parish have sponsored families, buying groceries and gifts to give anonymously to those families.
St. Stephen’s generosity extends even further, Chabot said, when families in need which are not sponsored by a parish family are provided groceries and gifts through the money donations and toy donations received throughout the weeks leading up to the Christmas Basket event.
The money donations are used to make a large food order, Chabot said.
“This year we will create 36 medium baskets, 16 small baskets and six large baskets from the donations received and from any leftover funds, we will purchase gift cards for the families in need who may not have been sponsored by a parish family. Those families will also have access to choosing from the donated toy items as needed,” she said.
As they gathered and sorted and packed Christmas Basket items Dec. 5, students expressed their happiness at being able to help others enjoy a happy Christmas season.
“This really means a lot to be able to do this. I know there are people who probably couldn’t have a nice Christmas dinner or give everyone presents, so this really means a lot,” said eighth-grade student Megan Mullen.
Sue Austreng is at