Making life more merry: Secret Santas boost efforts at elementary school

Some see Brown County’s students when they’re awake, in the halls each school day.

Others, year after year, check the list in the school office.

The children who benefit may never know where their gifts come from. And the secret Santas who meet their needs prefer it that way.

On Nov. 17, the Brown County school board accepted an anonymous donation of $700 to provide clothing and coats for Helmsburg Elementary School students.

Principal Kelli Bruner said she knows the person behind the donation, and it’s been coming for years, but the giver doesn’t wish to be revealed.

With part of the gift, Bruner bought 10 winter coats, about 10 outfits in various sizes and 10 pairs of tennis shoes. She said she had already given away two coats last Monday morning, when the temperature dipped below freezing.

If the soles on their shoes are flapping, or their worn shoes fall apart on the playground, it’s not uncommon for students go home with a new pair.

“Same thing with clothes. If they come to school, they have an accident or they play outside and get wet, we’ll put a new outfit on them,” Bruner said.

Those outfits are sometimes washed and returned, but not always.

“Sometimes (it’s) ‘Why don’t you try this on? Why don’t you keep this outfit?’ … Maybe their clothes are too small or just pretty worn and they need new stuff,” Bruner said.

Helmsburg’s PTO donates around $1,000 worth of gift cards during the holiday season, funded through events such as the school’s Santa Breakfast and Santa Shop proceeds.

If Bruner sees a child in need and she doesn’t have the funding or clothing to help the child, she knows she can call an organization, like God’s Grace, to get the child what they need.

“It is appreciated. I know the families appreciate it,” Bruner said. “I get thank-you cards. I get notes from the kids as well sometimes.”

Around this time of year at Sprunica Elementary, Principal Abbie Oliver’s office begins to fill with about 30 bags of gifts.

Everyone associated with the school, lunch ladies to teachers, picks a family — or two, or three — from the school’s giving tree, shops for them and delivers the wrapped gifts back to the school, anonymously.

“Every year people come to me like, ‘Where’s the list of families?’ They’re looking for them,” she said.

Requests from students on the free lunch program are picked first, followed by reduced-price lunch students and finally those students who pay full price, Oliver said.

Families are notified when their bags are ready for pickup. For those who can’t make it to the school, Oliver and another staff member deliver to their home.

“They are so grateful because it’s a time for so much stress for everyone,” Oliver said.

“Everyone wants to give their kids or their families something. It’s hard for families, so people are very grateful and thankful. People cry.”

The giving spirit even extends to visitors to the school. Oliver said a Brown County sheriff’s deputy noticed that a child was in need of a pair of shoes, asked his size and delivered a new pair the next day.

Sprunica also receives donations of money and supplies from individuals, including some who wish to remain anonymous.

“People want to give because they just want to, and they don’t want the notoriety. They are not looking for some kind of public kickback. They just want to be kind and thoughtful,” Oliver said.

Van Buren Elementary School and Brown County Intermediate School place tags on Angel Trees with a child’s age and clothing/shoe sizes. Donors, which include area churches and some staff, buy a toy and outfit for the child — and that’s not all, Van Buren Principal Christy Wrightsman said.

Others will donate socks, hats, coats and gloves, too.

At BCIS, students participate in a “change drive” to gather money to buy toys for children in need, said Principal Trent Austin.

Anonymous donors also give donate grocery cards, gas cards, coats and other necessities to families.

“We are very blessed to have the support of the Van Buren community not just during the holiday season but throughout the year,” Wrightsman said. “We have so many wonderful community members who help us every day.”

Want to donate?

Van Buren: Anyone who wishes to donate to Van Buren Elementary School this holiday season can visit the school to pick an angel from the Angel Tree or call the school at 812-988-6658 to request an angel.

Prinicpal Christy Wrightsman said the school could use hats, gloves and boots. Donors may also call and give Wrightsman their name and phone number so that she can call when student needs arise.

Sprunica: Principal Abbie Oliver said the school would appreciate monetary or gift card donations so they can address needs as they arise. Call Sprunica Elementary School at 812-988-6625 to donate or for more information.

Helmsburg: Those who wish to donate items or money to Helmsburg Elementary School can do so by visiting the school office or by calling the school at 812-988-6651.

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Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers business, cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.