Hitting the aisles at the Matthews Target store, students at Covenant Day School quickly realized they have a lot to be thankful for.
With a $60 budget and kids their age in mind, students were stopped in their tracks by the predicament to either buy one expensive gift, or help spread the joy a little more by scaling it down a bit, buying more for their buck, said Caroline Orsillo, teacher at Covenant Day School and organizer of the middle school’s bi-annual Doulos Day.
The shopping spree was part of the school’s recent Doulos Day, which means “servant” in Greek. The event is an annual semester tradition where more than 200 students in sixth, seventh and eighth grade hit the community for various outreach projects. The projects typically vary from year to year, with the last four years including volunteering with nonprofits like Samaritan’s Feet and Samaritan’s Purse, both organizations that have a global impact. But this year, Orsillo was looking for a third project that would hit close to home.
Starting with the school’s annual Penny Wars, where homerooms battled and raised money for a local cause, Orsillo found a project that would help families during the holiday season.
“We always look for positive causes to donate the money to,” Orsillo said. “This year, we decided to donate the money to the Christmas project with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.”
The school raised more than $3,500 through Penny Wars, which took place in October. And because Orsillo had a personal connection with the CMPD project, as her husband is an officer with the department, she thought the money would be a great addition for an outreach project on Doulos Day.
“My husband is a police officer and I’ve worked with their Christmas project for several years delivering gifts,” Orsillo said. “Last year, I thought ‘This is what we need to be doing as a school.’”
The CMPD Christmas project is part of the department’s Explorers program, an initiative to help youth and teens throughout Mecklenburg County. Captain Kathy Nicholas, CMPD’s special projects coordinator, has been planning the Christmas project for 37 of the 38 years it’s been in existence. This year, the program will provide a 50-pound box of food filled with a ham, bag of potatoes and box of fruit, plus gifts for kids to distribute to around 650 families in Mecklenburg County. Around 1,800 kids from area schools will be served this Christmas through the program, Nicholas added.
“Everything we have is donated,” Nicholas said, “down to the building we store our supplies in. We have a borrowed warehouse; boxes are given to us.” And food and gifts are supplemented by area businesses and nonprofits who will provide the program’s 650 hams and will purchase gifts for families. Along with Covenant Day, other schools such as Charlotte Latin School also help with the cause, many hosting food drives.
After Covenant Day seventh-graders finished their shopping, they headed back to the CMPD borrowed warehouse to wrap and sort their gifts, and help sort and pack food boxes.
Michael Bose, a seventh-grader at the school, said he used his $60 to buy a football, a Sorry! board game, a Connect 4 game and two Lego sets.
“I think it’s important because we get to enjoy this stuff and there are thousands who can’t,” Bose said. “If we can help the people, why shouldn’t we?”
Orsillo said many of the students came back from the CMPD project excited and thankful for what they have. And while sixth- and eighth-grade students were making a global impact at Samaritan’s Feet lacing tennis shoes for needy people around the world, and packing shoeboxes full of toys at Samaritan’s Purse for Operation Christmas Child, she’s happy the seventh-graders were able to help out the local community.
“This project with CMPD, we’re sticking with it,” Orsillo said. “I just think we need to really be very purposeful. Obviously there is need around the world, but it’s good the kids know we need it right here at home. It’s easy to jump on an airplane and fly to a country that has so much poverty and needs our help, but it’s tough to drive to a different part of our city and see such a big need, too. There is such a need here at home.”