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Local Students Help Those Less Fortunate During the Holidays and Year-round

Dec 01, 2014 10:21AM ● Published by Clare Heekin Lynch

Gallery: Charitable Giving [9 Images] Click any image to expand.

The holiday season means many different things to many different people, but to students in the northern Pittsburgh area, the “reason behind the season” involves giving and sharing with those less fortunate.

Local school districts are helping instill these values in students by hosting and participating in a variety of charitable giving opportunities. “Our community, families, students and staff members are very giving, especially during the holidays,” shared Rachel Hathhorn, Pine-Richland director of communications. 

Whether it’s collecting food, toys and clothing for local North Hills’ families, or raising pledge money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, North Hills School District Communications and Development Director Amanda Hartle echoes Hathhorn’s sentiments. “Each year, the students all across our district eagerly anticipate the fundraising events hosted by their schools; they can’t wait to participate and help!”

According to Hathhorn, the Pine-Richland district is a hub of goodwill. “From Wexford Elementary School’s Turkey Fund program to Pine-Richland High School’s Stuff-A-Bus fundraiser, the students, staff and community pour their hearts into making the holiday season brighter for those who might not be as fortunate,” she explained.

Pine-Richland High School teacher and Interact Club Sponsor Kathy Dalverny shared the example of a fundraiser that, since inception, has raised more than $15,000 in donations for the Lighthouse Food Pantry, located on Route 8. “The Empty Bowls fundraiser is currently in its seventh year and will be held this year on Saturday, Dec. 6, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Pine-Richland High School cafeteria,” she said. “The event is a collaboration between students from the ceramics and family and consumer sciences classes at the high school, as well as the PRHS Interact Club. Students from the ceramics classes create more than 100 beautiful, handmade bowls which are then sold at the luncheon. Guests can purchase a bowl for $10 and, in return, they receive a luncheon of homemade soup, bread, and dessert.”

But that’s not where the participation ends. “Throughout the school year, students from the Interact Club also volunteer at both the Lighthouse and the Butler Farm Market to assist with their monthly food distributions,” shared Dalverny. “By going to these organizations to volunteer, our students recognize firsthand that a need exists in our community. This, in turn, makes their volunteerism at the Empty Bowls event even more meaningful as they realize how important their contributions are to making a difference in their own local area.”

Fellow PRHS and Eden Hall Elementary teacher, Brittany Pikur, echoes these sentiments. “Volunteering is very character-building for the kids,” she said. “The high school students, especially, are at a point where they are preparing to enter into the ‘real world’ and to immerse themselves in situations where they learn to think for themselves. They are not being prompted by others to do good–that’s just so important.” Pikur is the student government sponsor and has helped oversee several community outreach projects, including the Canned Food Drive during Homecoming Spirit Week and Stuff-A-Bus.

“The students and sponsors decided this year that, in lieu of building homecoming floats, that they would pair up with the Pittsburgh Greater Community Food Bank to host a canned food drive,” Pikur continued. “It became a friendly competition between the homerooms of the ninth- to twelfth-graders, and the community was asked to help contribute goods at the homecoming game as well. In total, 2,059 pounds of food was collected–that’s over one ton of food!”

A tradition that is even bigger than all of these events is the district’s participation in local radio station 96.1 KISS FM’s Stuff-A-Bus toy collection for the Marines’ Toys for Tots drive. “All six schools in the Pine-Richland School District are collaborating again this year to beat the 2013 total of seven buses filled to the brim with every toy you could imagine,” said Pikur. “These kids are so amazing. They don’t set a record to beat another school but, instead, they up the ante for our district as a whole. They challenge themselves by setting standards because, in the end, it’s all about kids helping other kids.”

Pikur is excited about this year’s goal of filling eight buses. “An event like this is a great way for students, staff and community to give back to those less fortunate, especially during the holidays,” she said. “The students really know the meaning of ‘pay it forward’ and take ownership of their projects. By staying local in their efforts, they are able to be hands-on and physically see the difference that they are making. When they visit the donation site at Monroeville, they go on the radio to share their story and thank those who contributed to P-R’s Stuff-A-Bus.”

This spirit of giving is equally strong within the North Hills School District, according to Superintendent Dr. Patrick Mannarino. “Every year, I am awed by the dedication to charitable causes displayed by the North Hills’ community as well as the sheer volume of donations given selflessly by our students and staff to help others, not only during the holiday season, but throughout the entire year,” he said. “At North Hills, we strive to inspire our students to give back to those in need throughout our community.”

Some of the activities in the district include Ross Elementary students raising more than $4,500 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “To raise the funds, students participated in a variety of activities such as a snowman decorating contest, raffles, a dime collection contest and a ‘Teacher May I Week’ where students paid to wear special attire, receive homework passes and more,” shared Hartle. In another event benefiting the Make-A-Wish organization, North Hills High School students in gourmet foods classes participated in a gingerbread house contest. Students, staff and others voted for their favorites by placing money in each house’s corresponding container.

And who knew that small pennies could make such a big difference? “Our West View Elementary students donated more than $1,600 during their annual Penny Wars collection that will be used to benefit a West View family in the event of an unexpected tragedy,” said Hartle. This particular project is overseen by the West View PTA.

Whether it’s through donations of coats, cash, food or gift cards, students strive to give back in many ways. It is important to note, however, that the spirit of giving is not just limited to the holiday season. Many students participate in mission trips during the summer and in individual fundraisers all year, including a UNICEF collection during Halloween. Pine-Richland Girl Scouts Troop 50442 also spent countless hours making welcome bags for immigrant children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.  

For more information on the numerous fundraising events supported by local school students, you can visit the districts’ websites at www.pinerichland.org and www.nhsd.net.


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