By Celine Klosterman
IOWA CITY – In religion class, students at Regina Junior/Senior High School study the importance of charity and generosity, noted Kathy McCue, religious studies teacher.
In one effort to live out those ideals, students spent the past month working to make Christmas a little brighter for 18 local families in need. For the school’s 11th annual Christmas Basket Project, students donated, collected and purchased gifts that Regina seniors were slated to deliver Dec. 20.
“A lot of times, people think Christmas is about receiving. It’s nice to be part of the giving,” said senior Danny Pacha, a member of the project’s communications group.
The project began in late November, when each of 18 groups of seniors was matched with an area family facing unemployment, medical issues or other struggles. Most recipients were found through the Crisis Center of Johnson County, but Regina accepts applications from other families as well.
Students interviewed the families to make up Christmas wish lists. Each group of seniors then took the lists back to each of the 18 religion classes at Regina Junior/Senior High School. Those classes worked to get items on the list for their assigned families.
Toys, clothes and furniture are top requests. Area parishioners donate money to the project, and Regina holds jean days as a fundraiser. In mid-December, seniors use the money raised to buy gifts that weren’t donated.
During annual prayer services held before seniors deliver the gifts, the floor in the high school gym is usually covered with presents, Pacha said. “It’s always been a fun project.”
For the family of Patty Schulte and Brian Stark of Tiffin, Regina’s generosity came at the right time last December. Schulte, who was battling health issues, had just lost her job in internal technology at a credit union. Stark wasn’t working due to his own medical problems, she said. “We were living off savings.”
The couple weren’t sure how they’d buy Christmas gifts for 13-year-old twins and a 3-year-old. But the Crisis Center put them in touch with Regina, and students later met with Stark and Schulte to find out their needs. A few days before Christmas, Regina seniors delivered enough toys, clothes, laundry soap and other household items to cover a couch.
“Three of them were unloading a vehicle; they just kept coming and coming. We were flabbergasted,” Stark said.
“We were so grateful. It meant a lot to us,” Schulte said. Now receiving disability benefits, she bought numerous personal care items to donate to this year’s Christmas Basket Project.
“Talking to the families lets you know how excited they are and how much they need our help,” said senior Emma Seaman, family coordinator for the project. She and fellow students helped get items including tires for a family’s car and a laptop that a mother needs for work. “Just seeing what we’re able to provide shows that everyone cares.”
“This project has been a wonderful opportunity for all of us to take the time to reflect on the true spirit of giving,” McCue said.