CRESTVIEW — Tomorrow, thousands of North Okaloosa residents will unwrap their Christmas presents.
But the holiday came early for families of underserved Crestview High School students, who browsed 35 6-foot-long tables of food and 10 round tables of clothing on Thursday.
More than 6,000 canned goods and $1,000 in cash donations were among CHS students' contributions for them.
Prior to the giveaway, 50 leadership program students unpacked nearly 3 tons of food donated for more than 40 classmates' families.
"This is compassion right here," digital design teacher Yolanda Porter said. "This is good. These are good kids."
Making people happy
Students had collected the canned vegetables for three weeks. The effort grew into a competition between classrooms, leadership teacher Stephanie Sanders said. Math teacher Carrie Valdés' students won by donating more than 1,100 cans.
But students said their main motivation was giving to others.
"I'm really proud of our school," sophomore Megan Howard said on Thursday.
"This is good," sophomore Hanna Duke said. "... These families will have food for Christmas."
"It's amazing that our school has gathered this much food," junior Jared Bufkin said. "I'm proud of my school. I think it's going to make a lot of people pretty happy."
The collective effort touched faculty members. Teacher Elizabeth Rivera said she was close to tears as she watched donations pile up.
"I want to cry," she said. "This is the first time I've seen so many kids throughout the whole school this involved in something."
"This is incredible," choral music director Kevin Lusk said. "In all the (20) years I've been here, I've never seen anything like this."
Students donated sacks of potatoes, bottles of juice and soda, and frozen hams and turkeys, in addition to the 6,000 canned foods and cash contributions.
The teenagers used the money Dec. 18 at the Crestview Wal-Mart, where they bought 10 shopping carts full of laundry soap and personal hygiene products.
Students at neighboring Davidson Middle School launched a clothing drive. Soon, cartons of donated clothes were wheeled into the high school cafeteria, where leadership students waited to unpack and fold them.
"It feels so good to give back to the community for people who are less fortunate, especially at Christmas," senior Emily Parker said.
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.