Holiday Help

Packing boxes

UNC staff members, left to right, Aimee Rogers, Susan Stopher, Peg Morgan and Lee Ann Sappington fill "care packages" destined for U.S. military personnel stationed abroad this holiday station. Photo by Barry LaPoint

From local children and families in need to military personnel stationed overseas, helping make the holidays better for others is a tradition on the University of Northern Colorado campus and takes many forms.

One of the longest and largest holiday-helping traditions is the Giving Trees, a project coordinated on campus by the Student Activities Office's Community Connections program in cooperation with the local chapter of the Salvations Army.

According to program coordinator Chelsea Nelson, 10 Giving Trees located this holiday season in various campus locations started with a total of about 700 tags with gift ideas for local children of families in need. By the time the trees were taken down, 566 tags had been taken by students, faculty, staff and campus visitors, and Nelson's office in the University Center was overflowing with toys and other presents.

"I'm very happy with the turnout" Nelson said. "It's great to see the special interest that the campus community takes this time of year."

Needy children and their families in the Greeley area also benefited from the efforts of UNC programs and service organizations.

As part of an annual effort, students in the Early Childhood Education program collected and delivered 300 presents of toys and food to local school district offices the last week of fall semester. The presents will be distributed to low-income families.

UNC's sororities and fraternities each year support established holiday giving projects, but this year the campus chapters of the Nu Alpha Kappa and Sigma Lambda Beta fraternities made special efforts, organizing activities to benefit local low-income families that included toy, food and clothing drives; wrapping presents; and sponsoring a photo-with-Santa party.

Needy children around the world were the beneficiaries of Operation Christmas Child, an international relief program that was coordinated on campus this year by student Mariana Queiroz. Residence hall associations and students donated 70 shoe boxes worth of school supplies, hygiene products and other items, as well as cash to pay for shipping the boxes, as part of the annual effort.

The newest holiday helping project on campus was Operation Shoebox, a Florida-based national effort organized locally by the university's Professional Administrative Staff Council to collect and provide donated snacks, toiletries, books, DVDs, writing materials and other items to members of the military deployed outside the United States.

Last week, PASC members used more than $200 of cash donations to mail 25 boxes filled with items donated by the university community to two groups of service personnel with UNC connections. Boxes were mailed to a platoon of Marines in Afghanistan that includes the nephew of Frances Braafhart, who works in the Graduate School, and to a unit in Iraq that includes the sister of Nona Long, an academic advisor.

The quantity of items donated for the first-year project far exceeded the number of boxes supplied to PASC for the drive, so members forwarded nearly 20 large boxes of donations to the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post, which collects and distributes donations year-round to troops stationed around the world.

The "care packages" will definitely make a difference for troops who will spend this holiday season thousands of miles away from their families and friends.

"My sister said that Nick and the rest of his platoon are very appreciative and touched by this gesture and they are looking forward to receiving the packages," Braafhart said. "There are many in Nick's platoon that receive very little or no mail or packages, so this is truly a wonderful thing. Nick asked that we celebrate the holidays by treating each other with kindness and humanity and appreciate what we have."

- Gary Dutmers