Shane Lovelace, 10, tucked a card game into a shoebox as he made his way through rows of tables filled with gifts in a classroom Saturday at Southridge Elementary School. Kids with help from their parents filled shoe boxes with toys, socks, toiletries, hats and gloves.
Giving Christmas presents to local homeless students was the latest project of Southridge Kindness Club, which packed and wrapped 30 boxes and other gifts Saturday. After Shane’s family sparked the idea, the families of the club’s 90 members donated and started collecting gifts. Then community members responded to a post on Facebook about the project with donations, including more than $600 in gift cards from businesses and even people with no connection to the school, Southridge second grade teacher and Kindness Club founder Tracey Kegler said.
“So it started as a small project,” Kegler said, “And it just blew up.”
The project began when Shane’s mother, Kerry Lovelace, spotted Christmas boxes in stores that can be sent to children overseas. Kegler and the Kindness Club decided they could make a bigger impact with their budget by making boxes for kids the community, Kegler said.
The Natrona County School District’s homeless liaison gave Kelger a list of homeless students’ needs, like pens, pencils, shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste and socks.
Shane and his sister, Riley Lovelace, 7, gave a presentation to the club “about how many homeless kids there are in Wyoming and in Natrona County, and learning about what it means to be homeless — like living with your friend’s mom,” Shane said.
Some homeless students might even live in cars or abandoned buildings, the siblings said. That’s why they need things like school supplies, toothbrushes and soap, he said.
“The kids don’t probably have enough money to buy all that, because they’re going to need food,” he said.
It made him feel good to help out other kids. The project — and what her children learned from it — made his mother feel good, too.
“I’m really trying to teach them that there are a lot of people that are less fortunate than they are,” Kerry said.
The students decided whether to pack boxes on Saturday for boys or girls in either elementary, middle or high school. They added toys for younger kids, school supplies, makeup and deodorant for older kids and items like outerwear and personal care products for all the boxes. Kegler encouraged them to pack plenty of socks — one of the most important items for homeless students. Each box included at least one of the Kindness Clubs’ handmade cards.
The families later fanned out around the classroom and hallways to wrap the shoeboxes and other gifts that were too large to fit in them.
Twins Eva and Liam Maloney, 9 and their mother, Katie Maloney, sat in the hall outside the classroom to wrap the gifts they chose for high school girls.
Liam’s box barely closed, but he managed to secure it with tape.
After his mother helped wrap it and tied it with a white ribbon the boy wrote “3 girl HS” on the package with a marker.
Liam thought about the kids receiving the gifts who might not otherwise have presents.
“They can’t have, like, a little tree in the car,” Liam said. “So they won’t wake up on a Christmas morning with presents under the tree in the car. So that’s why the Kindness Club is doing this.”
Chance Newsome, 10, and his brother, Ryzin, 6, wrapped gifts with their father Norm Newsome in the classroom. The brothers picked out a coloring book, crayons and one of their favorite games, Uno, for a grade school boy. They almost chose a dinosaur set, but Chance opted for the laser tag, because it looked like more fun.
“They’re going to probably play with it a lot,” he said.
The family donated some of the games and socks to pack in the boxes that day. Thinking of other kids during the holidays and packing items like toothpaste and shampoo helps them realize how fortunate they are, the boys’ father said.
“That’s just stuff that they’ll be thankful for and some kids take for granted that they get every day,” Norm said.
Kegler started the Kindness Club with an idea to involve students in random acts of kindness in their school. The club has expanded from 30 to 90 members with many community projects like the Christmas boxes, Kegler said.
“Now, my overall goal is teaching kids at this age that it’s important to be kind as a lifelong skill,” she said, “so giving back, if you can, to those who can’t, is really important.”
Ideas for the club’s projects come from the students, she said. One member who was diagnosed with diabetes gave a presentation to the club, which made journals for other diabetic children. Other projects have included making tie-knot blankets for a neonatal intensive care unit in Denver and delivering treats to police officers and firefighters, she added.
“That’s one thing that inspires me more than anything, is it’s the kids who see a problem on our community or the kids that have a problem in our community, and they’re brave enough to stand up here and teach other kids about it and then make everybody a kinder person through that process,” Kegler said. “It’s pretty incredible. It’s a lot of work but it’s incredible.”