Volume 20, Number 50 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | December 8 - 14, 2010
Sixth grader Ethan Reese has a game plan to win his grade the coin drive competition
Holidays provide lesson on giving
BY Aline Reynolds
It’s that time of year again, when schools all around Lower Manhattan are holding gift drives, coin drives and other programs aimed at ensuring everyone has a holiday to remember. From shopping for toys to dropping change in buckets, the students are spending their free time helping out children and teens less fortunate than they are.
Geoff Chang, assistant principal of the Lower Manhattan Community Middle School, pointed out that the word “community” is in his school’s name. “Community service is something we think is important,” said Chang.
The students, he said, learn about altruism during morning meeting, a core class that begins the school day. But Chang saw the need for a coin drive to get their kids more actively involved in the school’s toy drive.
The grade that collects the most pennies is declared the winner of the coin drive. “Right now it looks to be kind of even,” said the school’s parent coordinator, Maria Ouranitsas, while eyeing the load of all three jars that were perched to the right of the stairwell on the school’s upper floor. “I hope we get these things filled up at least halfway.”
Students from the winning grade, which will be announced on Friday, are awarded a field trip to the Toys ‘R’ Us at Union Square.
The toys will be delivered to the Coalition for the Homeless, a nationwide housing and social services organization based in Lower Manhattan, and Toys for Tots New York City.
Last Thursday, day four of the coin drive, 11-year-old Yasmine Lu eagerly dropped a few pennies into the sixth grade jar. She felt grateful to be able to help homeless New Yorkers. “I never helped out with charity before,” she said.
Elizabeth Ribauda, who teachers sixth grade math and science, said her students often lose to the upper classmen in sports and other school competitions.
“They usually get the short end of the stick. I think they have a way to knock out the older kids and win this,” said Ribauda.
The grade’s winning strategy is to dump scores of silver coins into the seventh and eighth grade jars on the final day of the coin drive on Friday; since the rules of the drive state that only pennies allowed, the silver coins would disqualify the other grades. Sixth grader Ethan Reese, a seasoned coin drive competitor, came up with the strategy.
The winning grade will be allowed to pick the hair color of the school’s music teacher, Jude Traxler. “He just wanted to take the competition up a notch,”, said Ouranitsas on Traxler’s behalf.
But in the end, the drive is about giving, not winning. Reese already sabotaged the other grades by dropping $25 in quarters into their jars. “I always like helping out,” he said. Last year, he helped raise money for an event at the Harvest Christian Fellowship Church in midtown.
“I like buying gifts for people,” said eighth grader Eve Cosper. She and her friend, Mazzy Leinbach, emptied their pockets of loose change, mainly quarters and dimes, to throw into the sixth and seventh grade jars.
Cosper was headed to Duane Reade during lunch break to buy a few Barbie dolls for the toy drive. “I feel like it’s a good thing to give to others who don’t have as much as you do,” she said.
“People don’t realize how privileged they are,” said Leinbach. Last year, she made a trip to a nearby bookstore to purchase a few of her favorite childhood reads. “It’s like sharing a connection with people you don’t know about,” she said.
Schools elsewhere around Lower Manhattan are also integrating holiday charity projects into their December schedules. A handful of Chinatown’s Emma Lazarus High School students, for example, are volunteering at a local Barnes and Noble to gift-wrap non-perishable gifts that will be delivered to impoverished families.
“The kids are really excited to do this, especially for poorer kids who don’t normally get Christmas gifts,” said Debra Cardenas, Emma Lazarus’ community service coordinator. “They know the families and kids who the donated gifts are going to wouldn’t get gifts otherwise, because they couldn’t afford it.”
Emma Lazarus tenth grader Jenesis Alnanvar, who recently emigrated with her family from the Dominican Republic, is psyched to help prepare the presents for the shelter families. She herself comes from a humble background. “I kind of know what it feels like [to be underprivileged],” said Alnavar.
A separate group of Emma Lazarus students will help seniors at Henry Street Settlement, a nonprofit social services organization on the Lower East Side.
“We wanted them to do something more one-on-one, people-related, so they could actually see the impact they’re having,” Cardenas said.
In Battery Park City, I.S. 89 is also organizing a gift drive to benefit Henry Street Settlement, shopping for presents and gift cards for children temporarily residing at its shelter and attending its after-school program. They’ll be delivering the gifts to the center on Friday.
“It’s hopeful, but in a way it’s kind of sad,” said eighth grader Laszlo Horvath, who got his peers involved this week by handing out “Dear Santa” letters from the shelter children to his classmates.
“There are kids just like us… they’re so close, but we’re much more privileged than they are,” said Horvath.