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KES Philanthropy Project- Holiday Sharing

  • “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” – Desmond Tutu

I’m always trying to help connect the dots for my little ones when it comes to the big ideas of charitable acts. I jump at the slightest thought my five year old has about giving back. From baking muffins for the fire department or cleaning up trash on the sidewalk in town, or to just holding the door for strangers. It gets challenging coming up with ways to resonate with elementary school children whose whole world is generally five feet in front of their nose and nothing more. This idea that there is more to care about then just yourself and that we are all part of greater communities is tough to understand when you are just three and a half feet tall. The trick is to engage, motivate and give them ownership, which seems to be the trifecta of getting anyone actively involved in anything really. But there is a structure provided by the Parent Teacher Organization at KES that provides the children that opportunity to be selfless, learn how to give and become active members of their community.

The Holiday Sharing drives at KES for Thanksgiving and the December holidays provided the students a chance to take action and donate either nonperishable food items for The Northern Westchester Community Center in November and pajamas, family games and books for our own KES community in December. As the boxes outside their classroom filled up, the students were reminded of the need in the community and the fun of participating and helping those bins overflow. But the best part is, the giving didn’t stop there.

Once the bins of food were filled for the Thanksgiving food drive, the students were invited to walk the school halls after hours and collect the bins for delivery, which, for my kindergartener, was a thrilling act of independence. Once the food bins were loaded into our cars, the students caravanned down the hill to the Community Center where they were invited inside to weigh in their donations and to stock the shelves.

Have you ever had that moment with your young child where you let them use the Magic Eraser or a spray bottle of Windex or a handheld vacuum for the first time and they spend the next 90 minutes excitedly cleaning every spot in your home while you watch in shock? It’s like they go crazy for their new responsibility and step up in the food chain because they were allowed to play the part of an adult! That’s what it was like watching the KES students at the Community Center. They were full of excited energy at the chance to do some heavy lifting and shelf organization. But really, they felt empowered to help and participate in an action bigger then themselves. This is the moment where their action becomes ownership over their learning and hopefully they feel that they are capable of making a difference. And maybe, just maybe, a few kids left feeling a responsibility, or how great it will feel, to give again.

               

 

November 17, 2016 – After school food delivery to the Northern Westchester Community Center.

And much like the action of delivering and stocking the food at The Northern Westchester Community Center, the students were given the chance to wrap the games and books collected during the December holiday giving drive. Empowering the children to wrap the donated holiday gifts for those in need in their own community adds that extra layer active giving. Delivering a donated item is helpful and gives the students a sense of accomplishment, but I was very impressed with how many students came to school on a weekday evening to take that extra step to wrap, some learning the art of gift wrapping for the first time, and bag the gifts for those in need. The action seems so simple and didn’t take the group more then an hour to complete yet it’s powerful when young people chose caring for their community over their daily routine. It left such a positive impression on me just witnessing the kids, so enthusiastic to help, and very happy to be part of the KES community.

The holiday Gift Drive sponsored by the PTO for nearly 15 years. Pajamas and socks were collected by the kindergarten classes for The Northern Westchester Community Center, and first through fifth grades collected books and family games for the families in our own KES community.

December 19, 2016 – Holiday Sharing Wrap Night in the KES cafeteria

Chaired by Michelle Bieber & Beth Nevins

-Samantha Holcman

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“Why are we getting email receipts from weird places?! Was our card stolen?”

 

“Why are we getting email receipts from weird places?! Was our card stolen?”

“No. I went to the Holiday Fair.”

–    by Anne Foray

PROLOGUE

When did Christmas shopping become me standing in front of the gift card carousel at the local Mobil station? Why do I “one click” buy on Amazon all the crap requested by my nephews and nieces? From now on, I refuse…

This is my Christmas shopping manifesto…

I refuse. I used to search for that one special item that screamed to me. In years past, I would wander by a shop window and be so excited to see something suitably bizarre, like a Fabergé monocle necklace, that I would dart inside and yell, “Oh, it’s perfect for her! She’s been to Russia. And she actually read War & Peace. No for real. The whole thing!”

I refuse because I love the giddy excitement of the perfect gift. I love when it takes all my restraint to not immediately call and say, “I just got you the BEST gift. Can I tell you what it is?

I refuse because the malaise of my slick, Prime-shipping life has made me not give a single thought to anyone on my list. No, I click and click and click and sure my shopping is done, but I’ve neglected the whole point.

I say to myself, “It’s been so long. I’ve lost that muse. I have lost my ability to properly shop.” And time! I no longer have the time to wander around until fate stands me in front of a tie-dyed owl that could double as a beanbag chair. That doesn’t sound fantastic to you? I know one little girl who would squeal in delight at a world where owls could be tie-dyed. And that is what gives me hope.

I refuse because finding the perfect present should be an adventure, a heartfelt journey through stores and shops to find that one gift. The right gift doesn’t have to be expensive or luxurious. Really, even a small gesture can be a thoughtful, loving gift. It can be the ball by the register that bounces the highest, the stuffed elephant with ears so soft only the word “velveteen” applies, a bookmark crafted by hand to go in a book that I know you’d love, or even, a banana bread that I made (with chocolate chips and without the help of my three Typhoid Marys).

It is with this fire that I went to the Holiday Fair. “I am searching for nothing and no one,” I chant in my head. My mind must be empty of preconceived notions of what my children would love or what my husband would agree to pay for.

[In the spirit of full disclosure, my eldest daughter’s Girl Scout Troop was selling greeting cards in the Kid’s Sales section in the Cafeteria. So, there was a thoughtless $5 I had to spend. And of course I would spend that, because it’s her troop and I’m not some monster who won’t buy their kid’s greeting cards. And of course my younger daughter tagged along so there went another $3 for a light up squeaky, spiky football that I wanted to throw from my car window on the way home. But I digress…]

“Mom! I need this! Can I have $20?!” My younger daughter is on my side like a barnacle.

“No. I am searching for nothing and no one.”

“But…”

“Nothing! And no one!”

And she vanished into the crowd, no doubt searching for a kind vendor to give her yet another free candy cane.

Sure, I’m a sucker for small talk. And the whole town was there so I talked and talked and talked. But as I talked, my eyes darted and my thoughts ran: necklaces, beautiful sweet little furry vest, oh look, that looks like an ice cream cone but it’s actually some sort of cake on a stick. I like cake. And on a stick. That’s ingenious. And then I saw it…

I search for no one and nothing but… my latitude and longitude pillow in bright orange. I love latitude and longitude stuff. When you search for no one and nothing, miracles happen. All of a sudden there is enough WiFi in the gym to process my AMEX payment from the vendor’s little square money -sucking contraption.

And there is the Barnacle. “What’s this?” she asks, picking up a bright red flower made of felt.

“It’s a hairclip,” responds the lovely vendor. “You can have it.”

The Barnacle throws her arms up in victory. “Yes!” The Barnacle runs her tiny fingers over the felt. “It’s so soft. Who is the pillow for?”

“Daddy.”

“Good choice.”

And the Barnacle dragged me past a baker, a clothing booth, and beautifully intricate beaded necklaces. “Mom! Look at this! They are crayons but shaped into things!”

“Yeah. In my Mother Magnificent days I melted all the broken crayon pieces down and made them into fun shapes and you accused me of giving you defective crayons.”

“But look! This one looks like a Lego man!”

I search for nothing and no one but… a wall size golden Letter A made entirely of Match Box cars! I search for nothing and no one but my son who loves the alphabet and cars and trucks and all modes of transportation. I love ridiculous artsy wall hangings. On a Venn diagram of my likes and his likes sits this one item: a huge golden letter made of Match Box. And the coolest part? Even after being sprayed gold, the helicopter blades still spin, the tractor buckets still lift. I took a business card. I stare at the gold letter. I ask the lovely vendor. “How much?” She told me the price. It wasn’t ridiculously expensive. It was less than a big set of Lego. And those Legos would be lost for all eternity down my air conditioning vents. “Can you make a big letter ‘M’?” I ask

“Is it for me?!” screams the Barnacle excitedly.

“Nope.”

“Then who is it for?”

“Your brother. And I love it.”

And the miracle of meaningful Christmas shopping manifested itself in yet another AMEX charge.

“OK.” I say to the Barnacle. “Let’s go see how your sister is faring?”

I must admit. The gymnasium had some phenomenal creative offerings but the cafeteria and the hallway held some true gems.

Beautiful photographs, sensational crochet and knit, and an actual photographer taking portraits. She was very nice and she acquiesced to the Barnacle helping herself to a glossy pink balloon. “This place is amazing,” the Barnacle whispered to me as we walked into the cafeteria.

The cafeteria is where my daughters really came to appreciate the “I look for no one and nothing” mantra but the words “except for me” are tacked onto the end of their mantra. The little button earrings were a steal for $2 as was the handmade bookmark with copper coil embellishment. The Girl Scout’s greeting cards were astonishingly well designed and beautifully printed for $5. There were amazing Christmas ornaments. If you missed the offerings of the young business people in the cafeteria, you missed out.

My daughter’s shift was over and I was out of cash. But, something was ignited in me. The drive to, at the very least, try this year. I pledge to try to find the gift that says “Yeah. I know you said you wanted those slipper socks but I refuse. You can’t see you the way I see you. And you are so much more than slipper socks. And besides, no one actually wears slipper socks because they remind everyone of the hospital. No. I saw this. And I thought of you.”

Have a happy Holiday Season. I’ll be thinking of you.

 

 

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The Goddess, Death, and Taxes (or, my day at the Halloween Fair)

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It started at 10:45 when I ran through the gym doors carrying 24 Halloween themed cupcakes with my daughter, the Roman Goddess, lagging behind me wearing her fantastically insensible roman sandals.

“Listen to me…” I was telling her we had to hurry. We had a lot of ground to cover before we could return to the Halloween Fair and stay.

The Roman Goddess limped behind and kept interrupting me, “I’m going to need tickets. Don’t leave without getting me tickets. Or leaving me money.”

“Stop speaking and listen. I have no money. We’re dropping these off, we are going to the bank, we are rushing home to pick up your sister, and then we are coming back so you can do your shift at the Bake Sale.”

“That’s a lot of walking. Can’t I just stay here? And help? I’ll help. I promise I’ll help.” I weighed the benefits. I would get around faster without having to wait around for a lollygagging Goddess.

“OK. I’ll leave you here. But listen to me: you are staying here to work at this Bake Sale table.” I made my declarations in front of a friend who happened to be in charge of the Bake Sale table. “You are not gallivanting around. Do you hear me? And I’ve got eyes all over this school! I’ll be back by the time your actual shift starts.” And so, for my child’s well-being, the Goddess was forced into child labor until I could return to KES.

Assured my eldest would be in the exact spot in which I deposited her, I dashed all over kingdom come and returned to KES flush from the ATM and with my youngest daughter, the Skeleton Princess, who had bravely overcome an existential crisis brought on by the discomfort inherent in wearing clip-on black skull earrings weighing about as much as her shoes.

“OK.” I started into the gymnasium again at around 11:45. “Let’s go find your sister…” I began before being interrupted.

“No! I need to find my friend!” The Skeleton Princess was adamant. “I’m freaking out!”

“Calm down. Let’s find your friend. I’ll text her mom.” Or I won’t because I don’t even have the signal for a text message. “OK. Skeleton Princess, please get off the ground. We will find her. I’ll hold your earrings. OK. Stop hitting me. Just stop hitting me. I won’t hold your earrings.”

I roamed the hallways with a Skeleton Princess crying into my arm, “I’ll just die! Die! I won’t have a stitch of fun until I find her. Not a stitch!” We passed witches, ghosts, princesses, lions, tigers, turtles, Alexander Hamilton, a never ending river of fairy tale characters, and various parents who said, “Oh, Anne! Your daughter is looking for you! I just saw her! Oh, where did she go?”

“Skeleton Princess. You have to get a grip. I have to get to the Bake Sale to find your sister.” And then I heard the voice of the Goddess leap from a gathering of children playing some sort of game involving lollipops, “Mom!” She threw a long string of tickets at me. “Give these to Tahlia’s mom!”

“Why aren’t you at the Bake Sale?!”

“I was there for a while but then I wandered around with some people.”

“What about your shift?” I yelled as the river of glittery fairies, queens, and the Strong Man carried her away from me. “It’s not my time!” She yelled back. I looked at my watch. “Yes! It is! You’re 5 minutes late!” I screamed back.

“Really!? Oh no! Give those to Tahlia’s mom!” And the Goddess slid along her bruised feet toward the Bake Sale.

Skeleton Princess collapsed on my shoes. “What if I never find her?”

“We’ll find her.”

Skeleton Princess set her jaw and nodded. “Right. Let’s get tickets.” And with a resolution reserved for a child spending my money she walked right up to the ticket table in the front table and told me I should get 40 tickets.

“No. My limit is 20 and you’re splitting them with your sister.”

With our 20 tickets divided into 2 neat lines of 10, we headed back to the Bake Sale to give Goddess her tickets for when her shift was over. “OK,” I said as she stood guard over a table absolutely loaded with baked goods the vast majority of which looked to be homemade by people with far more patience and skill than myself. Apparently, these fantastic bakers don’t equate “bake sale donation” with a stop at Shop Rite. “Here are your 10 tickets, I’ll be at the ticket booth in the front lobby starting at 12:45. I’ll be in that one spot if you need me.” She rolled her eyes and said, “I’m going to need more than 10 tickets. Did you see all the games? And you can get a mani for 3 tickets! That’s a bargain!”

And Skeleton Princess who was hanging on my arm, trying to ensure I will undergo rotator cuff surgery, let go of my arm. This child, so close to the portal to Hell a mere four seconds previously, began beaming and dancing and singing at the sight of…her friend. Her friend with whom she promised to venture down the Haunted Hallway. Her friend with whom she promised to go to Doctor Boo. Her Friend. And away the Skeleton Princess ran with her 10 tickets, her 4 lb. earrings, and her Friend.

And then I got down to what I came to the Halloween Fair to do…talk to my friends. They were everywhere. It was glorious. Everywhere I turned I saw someone else to greet with a high pitched squeal. I made sure to go into the gym to see the Velcro wall, the extensive world of crafting, and Titania herself (I could tell by her crown) who was strolling about with purpose and a microphone. I love any gathering featuring Titania and a microphone.

I descended into the darkness of the haunted hallway to find Tahlia’s mom to deliver said tickets, as the Goddess insisted. And when the 4th graders jumped out at me, so hoping I’d be scared, I explained I was on a mission. I entered that dark hallway for the levity of chatting with my friend while little children covered in fake blood darted in and out of black light beams and squealed with delight when offered the job of jumping out of a coffin.

I talked to everyone I passed. I wandered around studying the happiest volunteer army you could ever see. I guessed which door the witch was hiding behind. Then I realized I was five minutes late for my own shift at the ticket booth in the front lobby.

Oh, the ticket table. It was fun. I got to count to 10 and 20 a thousand times and it was amazing how many times I had to start over. As the Goddess likes to remind me, “That’s why Dad checks my homework.”

The Goddess and the Skeleton Princess, so well adapted to the world of the Halloween Fair, knew that the most opportune time to make demands is when their mother is trying to count to 20. And so it began…the line would bunch up and as I made it number “16”, the Goddess would POOF! appear at my side with her divine demands, “20! I need 20!” And with the seasoned hand of a professional street hustler, she snaked a $20 from my wallet nestled safely in my bag. Wishing the goddess would cease making demands of me, I’d take my own $20, shove it in the metal box, and throw her a prewrapped roll of 20 tickets.

This happened over and over again. And that was only the Goddess. The tactics of the Skeleton Princess are far more threatening. She’d lurk and hang about, state her demands. I said, “Go see the Goddess!” But, no, the Skeleton Princess would scream, “No! It’s YOU! You I must speak to!” And again, another $20 would disappear from my wallet. Again and again, I was scammed and milked and intimidated and desperate.

I lost a tremendous amount of money working at the ticket table. At some point, I looked at my watch and thought, “I’d like to go home. I’m broke. I’m hungry. My feet hurt. My throat hurts. And I need sweatpants.”

“Have you seen the Goddess? Have you seen the Skeleton Princess?” I asked my friends as I retraced my footprints of the hours past. I was sent to Dr. Boo and down the Haunted Hallway. Someone saw one of them by the Prize booth in the cafeteria and another was spotted on the Velcro wall. One swore she saw the Goddess everywhere she looked.

The more fervently I searched, the further they ran. Literally. I saw them, together, run out of the cafeteria. I swear they saw me but wordlessly and with a stealth reminiscent of the Matrix they separated, circling, evading, and melting into the sea of humanity or a small pod of preschool mermaids.

Abandoned. The Goddess and Death left me penniless.

POST SCRIPT- Eventually, I found them both in the same spot. Eager to be the last ones at the party, Death was working her classroom’s booth, a wheel of misfortune (Of course), with the heavy-fisted tactics you would expect from Death. Her sister, the Goddess, was lounging across some chairs. “My feet,” she motioned. “Will you carry me?” She tossed me the black skull earrings Death had coveted until this morning. “And these too.”

After convincing them it was time to leave because the Fair was over, the Goddess yawned, “That was tremendous fun.” And Death, her hand again wrist deep in my handbag, declared, “I’ll leave. I’ve got enough Ring Pops to last me.”

– Anne Foray