CRESTVIEW — North Okaloosa County schools coordinated efforts to ensure lower income residents have happy holidays.
Crestview High School's leadership program members raised more than $2,000 to buy food and gifts for three families.
"Last year, we had so much stuff that we had to take more than one truck to each house," senior Gabrielle Thomas, 17, said. "This year, I’m hoping that we have that much, if not more."
Students said the program reminds them of their blessings.
"It definitely makes me feel that I appreciate everything I have been able to receive," Jess Fisher, 17, said. "This is my first year ever doing this and it makes me want to do this after I graduate."
"You can take pride in yourself for helping someone else in need and hopefully making an impact on their life," Ashley Guthrie, 16, said.
Additionally, the high school collected shampoo, body lotion, body wash, deodorant and socks for Emerald Coast Hospice.
“This turned out to be an awesome event. The high school went over the top and collected a lot more than I had hoped for,” Kathryn Ann O'Connor, Emerald Coast’s volunteer coordinator, said.
Toys filled Jennifer Richards' fourth-grade classroom this week at Riverside Elementary School, which presented a “Giving Instead of Receiving” toy drive.
“We’re running out of room, we might not be able to walk comfortably around here ... it is great problem to have,” Richards said before students left for Christmas break.
Students performed chores around the house to earn money for needy children’s gifts. Each student received the age and sex of the student to buy toys for.
“I cleaned my room and made my bed … I got around $10 to $15.” Linsey Bumgardner, 9, said. She bought clothes and building blocks for the child she selected.
Toys benefited the school’s students who come from lower-income families — a number that recently has grown, Richards said.
“I have never sponsored more than 15 kids,” Richards said. “Right now, we have over 35 kids.”
Riverside Principal Marline Van Dyke has noticed the swelling need.
"We have probably added 400 students this year," Van Dyke said. "Our school nearly has 1,000 students and 60 percent of them are in poverty."
Students and teachers collected 350 gifts for 37 students, as of press time, Richards said in an email. Each student will receive 10 Christmas gifts.
In addition, students collected 2,500 canned goods, following the lead of Shoal River Middle School student Trevor Bryant, 14.
Trevor introduced the idea to Riverside faculty and staff as part of his Mustang Learning Community project. The MLC encourages students to participate in community service projects. His church, Victorious Life Worship Center, also participated.
Most important to Trevor was the result.
“There won't be as many hungry people in this community,” he said.
Robin Marston, president of Sharing and Caring in Crestview, expressed her gratitude.
“It helps tremendously with the needy families in the community,” Marston said. “We appreciate this very much.”