Holidays often inspire people to be thankful for what they have, all the while highlighting the inequality in the world. The season can cause stress from the expectations of gifts, participating in events, and traveling to be with loved ones, especially for struggling families. People in need are in our backyard. They are our neighbors, friends, co-workers, and even people we sit next to in class.
Wheeler’s annual ‘Shop with A Wildcat’ aims to help those in need in the community. The program gives lower-income elementary school kids from the local feeder schools of Brumby, East Valley, Powers Ferry, Sedalia Park, and Sope Creek elementary schools an opportunity to shop for holiday gifts. It’s an example of how the Wheeler community is striving to actively make a difference in student lives.
The program, which just wrapped a bow on its fifth season, gives Wheeler students an opportunity to give back. Students also receive community service hours for participating.
The student volunteers form teams of three to four people and raise money for their group. Each team member is responsible for raising at least $40, but more is always appreciated.
Rebecca, a Wheeler senior, said she participated last year for community service and to help impoverished children have a better holiday season. For Rebecca, it’s important to help her community.
As part of their donation drive, students send out pre-written donation letters to friends, family, and businesses; donations can be cash, check, or submitted online through my payments plus.
The funds raised are used to pay for holiday shopping, breakfast, lunch, snacks, and crafts. Each group is assigned a student who they eat breakfast with and spend time mentoring ahead of the shopping spree.
Then, the groups go to Walmart on a $100 shopping spree to select gifts for the student’s family, friends, and even themselves. Each child makes a list of items they would like for themselves and to purchase for others. The Wheeler students are responsible for making sure the students stick to their budget and buy items at a reasonable price. Once the shopping is done, everyone returns to Wheeler for a Zaxby’s lunch, pictures with Santa Claus, and gift wrapping.
2019 was 11th grader Page’s first year helping the elementary students. According to Page, it is important to make sure that the younger students get gifts for the holidays.
As a multi-year volunteer, senior Makyah participated because when she was a kid, she went to ‘Shop with A Wildcat’ and always had so much fun hanging out and working with the high schoolers. The experience made her want to help other kids the way other students had helped her in the past. It was her way of making sure no child went without presents.
Without Shop with A Wildcat, many of these children may not be able to buy gifts for their family or may not receive a gift of their own.
The event not only relieves some of the gift-giving pressure from parents, it also brightens the seasons for the students in need and makes memories that they will carry with them for years, just like Makyah has done.
(Wheeler seniors Caitlyn Reap and Evan Mallon contributed to the article.)