Students at Fort Dodge Senior High are continuing a tradition to help make Christmas happen for hundreds of children in Fort Dodge and the surrounding area again this holiday season.
Two Christmas trees, adorned with gift tags with the names, ages and gift ideas for 250 area children, are on display in the school's cafeteria. The gift tree has been a tradition for nearly 30 years.
"It was started by an organization called the KLASS Club," said John McBride, yearbook and newspaper instructor at Fort Dodge Senior High. "Deb Takatsuka was the one who really got it going."
-Messenger photo by Emilie Nelson-Jenson
Tarin Crouch, left, and Ashton Pederson, both Fort Dodge Senior High seniors, pick tags from The Salvation Army gift tree in the FDSH cafeteria.
Knowing it helped meet The Salvation Army's needs for providing Christmas gifts to children in need, McBride said the gift tree was a service project tradition he did not want to see die with Takatsuka's retirement two years ago.
"They did this every year and really had it going for a long time," said McBride. "I didn't know who would do it after Deb and her husband retired."
The school newspaper and yearbook staff took on the project Sin 2010. They help put the trees up, decorate them with the gift tags and make sure the gifts are delivered to The Salvation Army, which will then distribute the gifts to the families.
FD students find other ways to help
Students in Fort Dodge Community Schools are finding opportunities to give back to their community this holiday season. From preschool to high school, they are doing things to benefit others.
- Members of the softball, boys basketball and boys swimming teams volunteered to package meals for Meals from the Heartland. At First Presbyterian Church they helped package more than 32,000 meals that will be distributed in Iowa, the United States and around the world.
Students on the 8 Red Team at Phillips Middle School completed their Christmas for the Soldiers project recently. Twenty-eight students brought items for 27 care packages. Nine soldiers, identified by the students, were each sent three boxes of goodies and holiday cards created by some of the students. Kemna Auto assisted with the project by shipping the packages. Four boxes of extra supplies were given to Beacon of Hope.
Students at Riverside Early Learning Center, all four elementary schools, and Fair Oaks Middle School are participating in food drives. Feelhaver's food drive will end on Monday. All other schools will continue until Dec. 19. Classes are being challenged and competing to see which rooms can bring in the most donations. The food collected will be distributed to local food pantries and nonprofit organizations.
Riverside Early Learning Center students will be conducting a coin drive to benefit the Humane Society. Students will be asked to bring coins to school between Dec. 19 and 21.
The National Honor Society will be holding its annual blood drive at Fort Dodge Senior High on Dec. 21 in cooperation with Life Serve Blood Center. Students who are at least 16 years old and in good health will be able to participate. According to Fran Long, NHS adviser, the goal is to collect at least 100 pints of blood.
Over the years, FDSH students have purchased gifts, but the school tree isn't just limited to students.
"Anyone can come in and get a tag," McBride said. "We had a few people who came to the basketball game Tuesday night take a couple of tags."
Both McBride and Capt. Carol Cook, with the Fort Dodge Salvation Army, said the students do a good job purchasing and bringing in gifts for the project.
"The kids get excited about what they buy. It's fun to see how excited they get about helping someone else," McBride said.
"The kids know the most about what kids like to get," said Cook. "They always make some good choices when they shop and we're looking forward to getting some good things back."
Once the gifts are returned to The Salvation Army, they are sorted by size and age group, and families are assisted in selecting items for their children.
Cook expects that more than 200 families will be assisted through the school's gift trees and a tree at the Crossroads Mall this year. A tree has also been added at Phillips Middle School.
"They're trying to get the middle school involved," said Cook. "We've gotten several applications in this week, and Operation Christmas is done with applications for this year, so we will probably get those families too."
Gift items for the tree may be returned unwrapped to the office or McBride's classroom at FDSH by Dec. 14.