The stack of Christmas toys piled high across a 60-foot by 20-foot stage at Picture Rocks school in the Marana Unifed School District couldn't help but attract attention.
Nor could one help noticing the nearly 2,000 toys in the Golder Ranch Fire District station awaiting delivery to more than 400 kids as part of the district's Toys for Kids program, now in its 16th year, or the 700 toys Butterfield K-6 School's K-Kids community service club is delivering to the Miracle in Marana program for distribution Christmas Eve.
Kids from hundreds of the Northwest's neediest families are already or soon to be sharing in these stockpilings, as well as truckloads of clothes and food area schools have collected from teachers, students, parents, grocers and other businesses.
In an across-school-boundaries effort, as an example of the outpourings of kindness that have been occurring, the Marana Unified School District will be assisting 252 families representing more than 1,100 people and all 15 of the district's schools.
The Marana numbers don't include families individual schools are helping on their own, such as the four families being helped with the money raised by the Parent Teacher Organization at Roadrunner K-6 School, the food collected by the school's Student Council, or the turkeys donated by Sunflower area residents.
This is turning out to be a Christmas in which, despite the hardships many families are suffering as a result of a faltering economy, students, teachers, parents and businesses in the Amphitheater Public Schools and Marana Unified School District are digging deeper to give more to more of the needy.
"This is perhaps the greatest season of giving ever for us," said Pat Derksen, Student Council advisor at Amphitheater High School, where truckloads of perishables, toys and clothes were collected for 25 families chosen for adoption. Kids gave up lunch money and shopped on their own for clothes and other goodies while the school's home economics class cooked turkey dinners for each of the families and area nurses brought in gifts of their own to be carted away by the appreciative recipients.
At Coronado K-8 School, staff and student efforts were combined with community resources to provide a bountiful holiday for 151 families, including 120 families served by the Catalina Community Resource Center and 31 families by the school itself, said Assistant Principal Sue Jefferson.
Teachers, students and families suggested the names of residents in need, families with children ranging in age from infants to 15. Two student councils bought gift certificates at Basha's and an additional $696 that included donations from the Lion's Club, was used to buy more food. A charitable group in Quail Ridge bought presents for 27 families, residents in SaddleBrooke bought presents for another four and Sam's Club, 4701 N. Stone Ave., offered 50 chickens at a discounted price of $75, Jefferson said.
"Response has been tremendous," Jefferson said. "We're probably doing at least as well if not better than last year."
Initially, 43 families had requested help, but the list was trimmed down when the Community Resource Center took over some of the families and others called in saying there were families out there more in need of help than theirs this time around, Jefferson said.
At Ironwood K-6 School in MUSD, 13 families were referred to the school as being in need, nearly double the number served last year, said Robin Tapia, Student Council adviser. The school combined an Angel Tree approach with a Holiday Sharing Program to finance their contributions, which included $200 from the sale of glow necklaces by the Student Council and $600 in community contributions. Families received gift certificates ranging from $50 to $100 from the Holiday Sharing Program, depending on how much assistance was provided by the Angel Tree contributors.
Early in the campaign there seemed to be little coming in, Tapia said. That changed when Principal Jennifer Vemich began alerting parents to the need for contributions through the school's Tuesday News Day newsletter and the contributions began flooding in, Tapia said.
That seemed to be the case whether schools were taking on one family or 50. At Coyote Trail K-6 School, as an example, officials decided one family was all they could help, said Diane Zorilla, a special education teacher. It turned out to be a family of four with two girls ages 4 and 5 and an 8-year-old boy.
"It always starts out slow so you think you won't have enough," Zorilla said, adding that it never ends up that way.
At Canyon del Oro High School, 23 families were chosen to receive holiday assistance, said Gaylene Long, a career clerk. Students in the Honor Society raised more than $800 with car washes and other projects while outside sources, including the Greater Oro Valley Arts Council, Rotary Club, Tucson Mall, Target and Safeway contributed another $700, Long said. It was the most the school had ever raised, she said.
The school's Distributive Education Club also held a Christmas party for 20 kids from Nash Elementary School and provided assistance to a senior in a family of nine seriously injured in a car accident and another family with a senior stricken with leukemia.
At Ironwood Ridge, 238 pairs of socks collected through an annual "Sock It to Me" sock drive sponsored by Amphi Facilities Support Services are being distributed to needy families, the student Key Club is collecting toys for the New Beginnings women's and children's shelter and the district's administrative offices are providing gifts and food to another needy family, said Terry Clark, school nurse.
The office of Butterfield K-6 School Principal Rocco Sugameli was chock full of toys waiting to be distributed along with clothes and gifts that are being donated to five adopted families because of students' good will.
At Nash Elementary, where 95 percent of the students' families have incomes below the federal poverty level, assistance is being provided to 64 families with help from Coronado, Harelson and Wilson schools, said Alice Farley, principal. The names of an additional 58 families have been turned over to the Salvation Army and Nash has its own sock drive going, Farley said.
Gail Gault, principal at La Cima Middle School, said her school is helping to provide assistance to about 20 families, compared with 14 last year.
families, compared with 14 last year. The effort is supported totally by students, staff and parents, quite an achievement for a school where half of its students qualify for free or reduced cost school lunch programs. A teacher at Ironwood, Dee Dinota, also donated thousands of tennis shoes to the school and to students at Nash and Keeling and canned goods not needed at La Cima are being donated to other schools as well, Gault said.
Peggy Korte and husband Ken, Key Club and Student Council advisers respectively at Marana High School, have been coordinating holiday giving programs for the past 12 years. The two programs provided turkey dinners, boxes of perishables and presents ranging from bikes to Barbie dolls to stuffed animals and clothes to 12 families with 35 children. The two clubs recruited from every class to involve as many students as possible, Peggy Korte said. Unneeded food was donated to the Marana Food Bank.
At Mountain View, classes were asked how large a family they'd be willing to support before dividing up 30 families in need of assistance, said Patricia La Peruta, student activities coordinator. Each family received gifts that included clothing, food, books and toys. Teaching assistants also adopted a family to help, Peruta said.
Thornydale Elementary School Principal Lynnette Brunderman adopted three of the 12 families taken in in by her school. Each class adopted a family and those who couldn't contribute in any other way wrapped the presents, she said. Surpluses were donated to the Marana Food Bank and Miracle in Marana.
CDs, bikes and bedding were among the gifts donated by Wilson K-8 School to 25 families of students from Wilson, Nash, Keeling, Holoway and Walker schools, said Penny Valeski, school nurse and one of the coordinators of Wilson's Adopt A Family program. Families also received a minimum $30 per person Target gift certificate.
A van and three carloads of gifts also went out to families at Prince from Copper Creek Elementary School where students raised $355 for an arts materials storage cabinet and art supplies as well as coats and other winter clothing, said Donna Kelley, Copper Creek principal. All the money raised was done so by students and their families, she said.
Mesa Verde Elementary School Principal Foster Hepler beamed with pride recently when a truckload of food, clothing and toys pulled out headed for four families selected for assistance.
"Collections in the first week of our drive were slow," Hepler said. "We weren't panicking but we were concerned. Then in the second week we were absolutely inundated."
Five families at Donaldson Elementary benefited from the $400 in school contributions and $200 from the Knights of Columbus, said Linda Wendorf, health coordinator at Donaldson. Thornydale Family Church, 10501 N. Thornydale Road, also contributed food baskets, she said.
While the above actions represent a broad sampling of the outpouring of kindness taking place in the Northwest, it is by no means all-inclusive.
Illustrative of that point is the contribution being made by the Golder Ranch Fire District which is donating more than 2,000 toys to more than 400 children as part of its 16th annual Toys for Kids Program. In addition, groups in SaddleBrooke and Sun City are donating quilts and shoes, the Santa Catalina Mission is donating food and clothes and Player's Pub, 16024 N. Oracle Road, has donated $1,800, said John Sullivan, the district's public information officer.
All in all, such efforts make a Northwest Grinch hard to find.