By Barbie Porter
As staff at Frazee Elementary stood in a room filled with gifts and food destined for residences in the district, it was apparent that the Christmas spirit couldn’t be broken, not even by a pandemic.
About 40 families (and almost 130 children) were provided blessing boxes. Some contained presents, some food and others had both.
The thoughtful gesture started as staff members chatted about how the COVID-19 pandemic created hardships for many living in the school district. From the chatter the idea of giving people the opportunity to be a blessing to their neighbors was born.
Native American Club Coordinator Heather Perrine and the district social worker, Shannon Bakkilla, agreed to lead the effort, which had to be done in a week.
“It was really a last minute decision,” Perrine said. “Knowing this year might be bleak because of the damage COVID has done, we couldn’t let families go into Christmas vacation like that.”
After a quick blessing from school administration, a letter was sent out to all the parents in the district. The letter asked for donations of food and gifts from those who have weathered the financial storm COVID-19 created. It also asked the struggling families to allow the community to help. Parents could fill out the bottom portion of the letter, note the children in the house and their ages, and if they would like gifts, food, or both.
In addition to asking families for donations to give to the struggling families, the school also held a classroom competition to raise items.
“It started with the idea that one class would win a pizza party, but it was such a great turnout,” Perrine said, noting the pizza parties were expanded to three categories.
Russ Hackel’s first grade class took top honors with the most food item donations. Danya Dahlin’s class took first with the most toy donations. And Shana Schwann’s class took first for the biggest single item donated- a brand new bike.
Perrine also posted the project on social media and placed donation boxes at Frazee Family Foods and Dollar General.
The FFA saw a need to make sure a main course was provided addition to the side dishes and donated turkeys.
“There were many businesses and individuals that went above and beyond,” Perrine said. “I feel blessed to live in this community; it is one of a kind. I can’t thank everyone enough for the support they gave.”
The Monday before Christmas break, the drive concluded. Any free time staff members had between work they gathered in the gift room to sort through the items and create boxes for families. During those moments, a temporary reprieve from the past nine months of chaos was felt by Becky Matejka, the school’s integration coordinator and intervention specialist. Each gift was a reminder the community was still together in this storm.
“The school, the community, the businesses all wanted to make sure those in our district have a happy holiday,” she said. “It was really a village effort.”
On Tuesday the packages were ready to be delivered. Anderson Bus stepped up to the plate and hit a grand slam. The Frazee-based business donated the buses, the gas and the drivers to deliver the packages. Staff members road the routes with the drivers to organize the items and hand them out.
The blessing box delivery busses returned just in time to get in line to take students home for the Christmas break.