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'Spirit of Santa' alive and well in Belmont

December 30, 2009
BELMONT — Children of the Shaker Regional School District had a merrier Christmas, thanks to their teachers and school staff members. In a Secret Santa-style campaign, coordinated by Belmont Middle School nurse Gerri Harvey and Guidance Councilor Annette Blake, the district spent two months raising money and collecting gifts for children whose parents needed a little help this holiday season.

Harvey said she has been involved in the annual effort at the middle school for 11 years now. It's something that a lot of school nurses try to do for their students, she said, and a project she looks forward to each year.

"It's very gratifying and conveys a wonderful feeling to help them out," she said.

Working along with nurses in the other schools, fliers were sent home with students asking parents if they needed assistance with Christmas for their families. They were asked to send in a Wish List if they wanted to be included in the "Spirit of Santa" drive. In an effort to keep everything anonymous, everyone drew a number for a child to buy for. Each shopper was then given the anonymous wish list to help in their purchases.

To boost the effort, teachers paid a dollar each Friday to wear jeans to school and the money was set aside for last minute items and gifts that might be needed. They also held raffles for donated prizes such as a Silpada necklace and a special Christmas ornament. The raffle alone raised almost $100.

Because Blake is the advisor for the National Junior Honor Society, she involved students in the organization to pitch in as well to raise money for the cause.

Belmont Police and Fire Departments made their own contributions to the Spirit of Santa by donating extra toys they had from their Toys for Tots drive, making it a community-wide effort for which Harvey was very grateful.

Village Image in Belmont adopted a family, contributions came in from St. Joseph's and other local churches, and even some private citizens helped the staff in their efforts.

"Every year we have a family or two who make it a tradition to shop for a family. The fact that people do this anonymously makes it very special," Harvey said.

Delivering the gifts gave a real meaning to the holiday for her as she saw the joy and gratitude on the faces of the families they assisted. Harvey's only regret was that everyone who contributed could not be there to share in those special moments when she knocked on their doors.

Harvey said St. Vincent de Paul Society also deserves a special thank you for not just helping with the Spirit of Santa, but for their ongoing, year-round efforts to assist families in the district with clothing, backpacks and other items.

"We like to remind people about what a great resource they are," Harvey said.

Vice-Principal Tim Saunders was very proud of the staff and their holiday spirit of giving. It was a monumental effort, he said, and he praised Harvey for coordinating the project.

"She's very altruistic. Her spirit to helps others engages us to do the same."

He said the staff does this quietly each year because it's "the right thing to do."

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