Students collecting Coins for Christmas

High Level students are showing their holiday spirit by fundraising for gifts for some of the town’s less fortunate families.

Coins for Christmas a tradition started eight years ago by former student Devyn McAskile, who came up with the idea of collecting change and donations to help the less fortunate during the holidays after attending a We Day event. When she graduated from High Level Public School, the event was continued by her sister, Taryn. For the last four years, different groups were approached to continue the program. Last year, a group of HLPS staff decided to approach students to tackle the program – and it is students taking up the challenge this year.

“This year, we took it on as a school and got a group of kids who were interested in doing it,” said HLPS Principal Anna McAskile, who is the mother of Devyn and Taryn. “Hopefully that will continue that way.”

The funds collected will be used to purchase gifts for preselected families involved in the Christmas Basket Campaign, a program that helps underprivileged families of students in Spirit of the North Community School, HLPS, Florence MacDougall Community School, and The Learning Store. This year, Coins for Christmas has raised around $1,500, and organizers intend to use those funds to purchase more than 30 Christmas gifts.

While total numbers from the past eight years were not available, McAskile said there might have been between $10,000 and $15,000 raised – all of which has gone back into local stores to purchase Christmas gifts for less fortunate families. All gifts are purchased locally in order to further community support.

“We feel if the community supports us, we are going to support the community,” said McAskile. We don’t buy any presents online. We support the local businesses that support us.”

On Dec. 2, HLPS students held a Bearclaw Sundae fundraiser to help raise money for the project. McAskile said there are many lessons for the students to learn through their community service efforts.

“It’s definitely about the Gift of Giving,” she said. “It’s nice to be able to share with those who are less fortunate. So it teaches students about being understanding and compassionate.”

“They see a need for it,” she added. “They see kids in our school and in our community who are not as fortunate, and they are willing to give up their time after school and on weekends if they have to.”

While the holiday season is often a time of great joy for children and youths, it can also be a source of stress and sadness for children in families that struggle over the holidays.

“What you see is kids start to regress or go into themselves because they see everyone else hyped up about Christmas, talking about what they are going to get, and kids feel it,” said McAskile. “They may not always show it, but you can tell they don’t have that same glimmer in their eyes as other children. And the staff is good at identifying those kids. We make sure that everybody has something.”

“It’s hard at Christmas to see children and their families not having anything, or having very little. It isn’t about levelling the playing field, but just making sure there is something for everybody.”

The Fort Vermilion School Division champions the spirit of pitching in and lending a hand, and it values acts of kindness for the betterment of the community. These values are indicative of northern communities as a whole.

“We are very fortunate to live in High Level,” said McAskile. “It’s a community where, if they see a need, they help out wherever they can. We all work together as a team.”