The Season For Giving: The Youth Services of Glenview and Northbrook host an annual holiday gift drive for families in need. Through this program, South students join in the spirit of giving.

The Season For Giving: The Youth Services of Glenview and Northbrook host an annual holiday gift drive for families in need. Through this program, South students join in the spirit of giving.

Jackie Cortopassi

HOLIDAY CHEER: Surrounded by a few of Santa’s finest tools, Tilija Kocovic, a volunteer of Youth Services of Glenview and Northbrook, sorts through piles of gifts to be given to local families in need. With the help of South students and clubs, this program was able to provide gifts for over 300 families in the surrounding area last year.

Olivia Sotirchos & Sasha Vassilyeva, staff reporters

The holiday season, typically commencing with the post-Thanksgiving food coma and ending only when the very last glass from the New Year’s day gathering has been returned to the back of the cabinet, is traditionally known as the time for people to give back to those who are less fortunate. This tradition certainly does not fall short when glancing at the community surrounding South.

For the past 15 years, Youth Services of Glenview and Northbrook has run their annual Holiday Gift Program. This program, according to www.youthservices-gn.org, is largely successful due to donations of students and clubs at South and North.

According to Karen Paszkiewicz, head of the program, volunteers are given a child’s wish list and asked to purchase the necessities – such as boots, underwear and coats as well as a fun gift that was requested. Paszkiewicz vouches for the importance of these necessities to recipients.

“It’s a shame to hear that a child doesn’t have boots or a coat, because if they don’t have boots, they can’t go out to recess,” Paszkiewicz said. “The children are thrilled to find out that when they are in need of boots or a coat, they receive [these items]. Then, they can still go out for recess and be like their other classmates and peers.”

Many of South’s service clubs, such as Interact Club and Key Club, as well as individuals, choose to participate in the program yearly. Junior Katie Coy, member of Key Club’s student board, has worked actively with the program for the past three years. According to Coy, her motivation for being involved in the program has shifted over time.

“I did it first because I really needed the points for Key Club,” Coy said. “Then, I realized it’s a really cool idea, because to wake up and not have anything under your Christmas tree is upsetting.”

Coy is not alone in her enthusiasm surrounding the spread of holiday cheer. Sophomore Jack Whetstone is participating in the program alongside his entire English class – an idea spearheaded by his teacher, Deborah Cohen. Whetstone, like Coy, realizes the power of giving back to the community.

“Not everyone can afford these things, and we are so privileged to be able to get as many gifts as we do and have the lives we do,” Whetstone said. “It’s just so important to make sure we share with other people.”

Cohen, who attests to the fact that she has wanted to get involved with the program for years, decided to extend the opportunity to her entire English class on a complete whim. According to Cohen, she decided to ask the students if they wanted to participate as they were gathered around the door, ready to dart out of the room as soon as the bell sounded.

“I kind of just shouted, ‘Hey, do you want to sponsor a kid?’, and these students who were getting ready to leave the room, not really paying attention, stopped what they were doing, and all enthusiastically shouted ‘YEAH!’,” Cohen said. “I just thought it was the coolest thing that there is such a genuine interest in helping. I didn’t have to do anything more than that.  That’s all it took.”

After all the gifts have been collected and wish lists fulfilled, Paszkiewicz said Youth Services hosts a wrapping party.

“We have different groups that come and wrap [the presents],” Paszkiewicz said. “There [are] quite a few groups from GBS, local schools, girl scout [troops], boy scout troops [and] church groups [who] come and do wrapping parties.”

According to Paszkiewicz, South’s Key Club, Interact Club and Unidos have participated in the wrapping parties that Youth Services host. Additionally, Interact Sponsor Mark Gallagher said Interact has been doing the gift wrapping event for at least 12 years. According to Gallagher, students really enjoy this event, and it gives them a chance to relax from school work and be with friends while giving back to the community.

“I think what we’re hoping is that [students will] catch the bug,” Gallagher said. “Once you begin to help other people selflessly, you feel good about yourself.  It feels good to help other people and it’s important to give back, not just at this time, but at all times. So, it’s really what we hope [students get from the program].”

Key Club has also participated in the wrapping parties. According to Josh Koo, Key Club sponsor, students that participate in the gift wrapping events really enjoy themselves every year and find it a great way to give back to the community.

“We remind [Key Club members] that these [presents] are for kids that otherwise would not get gifts during the holidays,” Koo said. “It really inspires the kids to be more positive and more genuinely grateful for what they have.”

Coy has participated in the wrapping parties with Key Club for the past three years. According to Coy, they play music and serve holiday treats, such as cookies and hot chocolate, while people from the community wrap all the donated presents.

“It’s just amazing to see all these things that [the kids] want,” Coy said. “Some just want hats and gloves and coats, and that’s something that I take for granted.”

The wrapping party is just evidence of the many  different ways people can get involved in the program based on interest. Cohen sees all these different ways to get involved and tries to adjust the program in a way where every single individual in her classroom can be active.

“I’ve tried to give people different ways of being involved,” Cohen said. “If [a student] can give a dollar, give a dollar, if [a student wants] to go shopping and spend the money, that’s another way of being involved that maybe doesn’t cost anything, or the wrapping aspect.  There are other ways to help rather than just giving money.”

With the Holiday Gift Program and spirit of the season in mind, Coy eagerly chats about the gift wrapping party she has attended for the past few years as another benefit of participating in the program. According to Coy, she feels that all students can benefit from programs like this and encourages her peers to give this holiday season.

“Give as much as you can,” Coy advised. “Keep an open mind that there are people that need it.”