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'Every toy they get makes a child smile'

Lake Grove Elementary students organize a drive that collects hundreds of toys for children in need

Photo Credit: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Chloe Carnegie (from left), Julia Siever and Bond Barnette sort through the toy donations.One reason behind letting Lake Grove Elementary fifth-graders lead the school’s first toy drive last week was to offer them an opportunity to perform community service, teacher Sandy O’Banion says.

“It helps the kids understand that they can make a difference in other people’s lives,” O’Banion says, “and that’s an important lesson.”

Fifth-grader Sam Chandler seems to have gotten the message.

“I’ve learned that a lot of children don’t have a whole bunch of toys, and every toy they get makes a child smile,” she says. “It makes not only them smile. When they smile, it makes us smile when they get a toy because we’re helping them.”

And students at the Lake Oswego school are definitely helping.Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO: JENNY THOM - Rachel Bravo of Lake Grove hugs her toy-drive donations.

Donors have contributed 820 toys during the Dec. 1-4 toy drive, well exceeding the school’s goal of 300. The toys, many of which are new and high-end, will end up in the hands of children who are homeless, struggling with illness or fleeing domestic violence.

“We’re donating to people who can’t afford toys, so they don’t really have Christmas,” says Eli Bowersox, a Lake Grove fifth-grader.

That concept of giving to people in need at Christmas just may have begun with the man who inspired Santa (who is, of course, a real person who came along later, children of Lake Oswego). One story says St. Nick, a bishop born 280 years after Christ, provided gold to an indebted father for his daughters’ dowries, according to National Geographic. Photo Credit: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Grace Winter (from left), Olivia Chi and Olivia Turley cart away garbage bags full of toys collected at Lake Grove Elementary School.

Centuries later, parent volunteer Julie Amiton discovered how eager people still are to carry on the tradition of reaching out to those in need. Not only did the toy drive collection smash its goal, but many people, especially students, assisted in making the event happen.

“I think that people were really hungry for something like this,” Amiton says. “I do think people want to give; they just get caught up in their daily lives.”

All fifth-graders were supposed to participate, but many of them went above and beyond. About 50 children attended a work party, for example, crafting the banner that skirted the gift table, the posters put up throughout the school and the signs volunteer kids waved at parents dropping off their children in the morning.Photo Credit: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Grace Winter sorts through toys.

That high level of interest means the toy drive was a true success, because it was started not only to teach the children about community service, but also to give fifth-graders an opportunity to organize their own project. Fifth-grade teacher Jessica Fujii says her students all were extra responsible because they understood they were serving as role models for younger students.

“It gives our school a chance to use our fifth-graders as leaders, and to connect with other classes, which we don’t get enough of a chance to do,” Fujii says.

School employees also pitched in; one teacher asked students to donate to the toy drive instead of buying her presents, for example. And several parents teamed up to transport the toys last week to their intended recipients: Community Transitional School, a nonprofit private Portland school for homeless children ages 5 to 14; Raphael House, a domestic violence agency offering services such as an emergency shelter; and Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO: MICHAELA SEIBER - Luke Doan (left) and Eli Bowersox of Lake Grove offer a positive message.

The community support “definitely has an impact,” Raphael House Executive Director Teri Lorenzen says. About 60 percent of the families her organization supports are children, and during the winter holidays 120 families come to the advocacy center to look for special gifts that the community has donated, such as toys, clothes, personal care and household items for mother and child.

“It’s one of the happiest times of year for us,” Lorenzen says.

This year, many of those children will be able unwrap something they’ve been dreaming of — whether it’s a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figure, Star Wars-themed Lego kit, Monopoly game, soccer ball or “Frozen” doll.

“This community is amazing,” Amiton says.

How to help

Learn more about the Raphael House by visiting www.facebook.com/RaphaelHouseofPortland or www.raphaelhouse.com, or by calling 503-222-6507.

Learn more about the Community Transitional School by visiting www.facebook.com/pages/Community-Transitional-School/400263536651369 or www.transitionalschool.org, or by calling 503-249-8582.

Learn more about Doernbecher Children’s Hospital by visiting www.ohsu.edu/xd/health/services/doernbecher, or by calling 503-294-7101.

By Jillian Daley
503-636-1281, ext. 109
email: jdaley@lakeoswegoreview.com
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