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CONVAL

48 hours, $3,000 and a Christmas saved

CONVAL: Gift list snafu overcome by last-minute district-wide donation drive to benefit 17 students

Seventeen ConVal School District students were in danger of missing out on Christmas this year, until ConVal staff and community members came through at the last minute with donations to purchase badly needed holiday gifts.

Every year, district social workers Judy Hertzler and Kim Fairbank put together a list of the district’s most needy students, those whose families really need help during the holiday season. The names are suggested by teachers and staff who know which students are in need. Parents are then asked if they would like to be on the list and what their family and children most want for the holiday. The gift lists are distributed to a number of local community organizations who buy the gifts, which Hertzler and Fairbank arrange to have delivered before the start of school vacation.

This year, though, one list got lost in the shuffle.

“We discovered at the last minute, just a week before the break, that we didn’t have enough gifts,” Hertzler said on Monday. “One of the groups misplaced one of their lists, with 17 names. They were horrified when I called them, because all their funds were gone. We said ‘Oh my God, these 17 kids won’t have a Christmas.’”

While the organization that lost the list managed to come up with some money and gift cards, Hertzler and Fairbank estimated they’d need about $1,700 to fulfill their needs. So the two social workers started spreading the word.

“We were scheduled to do a training session for some district staff,” Fairbank said. “We told them about this, and people started giving us money and volunteering to go help shop. That momentum really helped to get us started.”

They also met with School Superintendent Brendan Minnihan, to ask permission to put out a mass email to the district staff, asking people for about $2 each.

“He immediately offered to help,” Hertzler said. “He said ‘You know what, why don’t I send out an email to each of the principals and they’ll send it on at their schools.’ He did that, and within an hour, money was already coming in. Every school contributed.”

And as word started spreading, the women also got donations from the Antrim Lions Club, the Antrim Police Department and the Temple Congregational Church and the ConVal Education Association – the union that represents the district’s teachers and paraprofessionals. Within 48 hours, they had received more than $3,000.

So Fairbank and Hertzler went shopping for the 17 students and when they were done, they started contacting parents, some of whom had been worried that their children would have a sad Christmas. Some parents picked up presents and on Friday, the last school day before the holiday break, Hertzler and Fairbank delivered the rest of the gifts in person.

The women said they were moved by how quickly and generously everyone responded to their emergency.

“The staff was just amazing,” Hertzler said. “It was just so apparent that everyone put our students first.”

“It felt just like ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’” Fairbank said. “I was overwhelmed. It made us both teary.”

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