Photo by Kelly White
Sara Bishawi, 16, and Marina Tovar, 15, both of Oak Lawn, participated in Operation Santa Claus, The event focused on the adoption of a families’ wish list for Christmas, including the purchasing, wrapping and distributing gifts to families within the school district. A gift-wrapping party was held at the school at 9400 Southwest Highway,, on Dec. 18.
By Kelly White
Oak Lawn Community High School students are wrapping up care and good wishes to their peers this season.
This is the 15th year of the school’s annual Operation Santa Claus, an event focused on the adoption of families’ wish lists for Christmas, including the purchasing, wrapping and distributing of gifts to families within the school district.
“ It’s nice to have the opportunity to give back to the community and the families who are in need,” said Kennedy Johnson, 17, of Oak Lawn.
“ It is overwhelming to see the generosity of our staff and students who give anonymously to help those less fortunate,” said Jeana Lietz, principal at Oak Lawn Community High School. “I know that we have outstanding students who demonstrate Spartan pride, and this is one way that we can show the larger Oak Lawn-Hometown community how great they truly are; and, our staff members who run the program dedicate their own time, and money, to make sure that families can have a better holiday.
Families were selected who demonstrated a need for assistance, as determined by the counselors and social workers. Once the families were selected, wish lists hung on candy canes that were then placed on Christmas trees in both the student and staff cafeterias at the high school at 9400 Southwest Highway.
Each candy cane had a gift tag identifying a person, their age, and their Christmas wish. Wishes included items such as: clothing, gas and grocery gift cards, and toys. The names of the families are kept confidential.
In order to become a part of the project’s wish list, every family participating had to have one or more students attending Oak Lawn Community High School, with ages ranging anywhere from freshmen to seniors.
Students and staff members were able to select a random candy cane, purchase the gift(s), and return it unwrapped to the school. Over the past 14 years the school has donated 3,680 gifts and $15,770 in gift cards to 336 Oak Lawn residents.
“ This is the only charitable event at Oak Lawn Community High School that directly assists families at the high school,” said math teacher Ellen Kruger. “As a school we host many programs to assist those in the community at large, but these donations go right to the families of our students.”
Kruger was responsible for organizing the event, along with classroom teachers Chris Repa and Joyce Rafferty.
“ I participated on the committee of a similar project in college at James Madison University and always adopted a family to purchase gifts for as I was growing up,” Kruger said. “My parents instilled in me the importance of helping others who are less fortunate and I wanted to continue those efforts on a grander scale.”
The Operation Santa Claus committee, made up of the school’s extracurricular group Cross Countries Rapid Response Team, under the guidance of Oak Lawn Community High School’s dean, Jamie Hernandez, held a gift wrapping party on Wednesday, Dec. 18.
“ I really enjoy wrapping gifts so this is a lot of fun for me,” said Alyssa Cintron, 16, of Oak Lawn. “It’s wonderful to be able to bring joy to others.”
“ It’s a great because it helps not just the community, but specific students at our school,” said Michaela Brosnan, 18, of Oak Lawn.
From there, the gifts were taken on the school’s Spartan minibus and hand-delivered by staff and students to the families in need. At least 200 members of the student body and 50 or so staff members participate in collecting spare change or purchasing a gift, Kruger said.
“ I hope that they gain a sense of philanthropy and the chance to contribute towards the true meaning of the holiday season, which is giving to others less fortunate than yourself,” Kruger said.
Students, including Lauren Burke of Oak Lawn, said they enjoyed being a part of Operation Santa
“ It’s just really important to give back,” Burke, 17, said.