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Gifts from the heart

High school students find many ways to give back to the community during the holidays. NeXt correspondents profile a few of those efforts.

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A dime at a time

By TONY NASH - NeXt Correspondent

With the holiday season drawing near and so many gifts to buy, it's easy to forget others who are less fortunate. That is why there are people like Anna Klapakis and her community- based class at Bennett High School, who show what happens when people come together for a good cause.

Her community-based class are students who need extra help in school. The class just wrapped up their third year of the Brother Can You Spare a Dime Food Drive, which takes place seven days before Thanksgiving. The drive helps needy families who don't have enough food for a Thanksgiving dinner.

"We are always looking to get involved and help out people in our community," says Ivette Hammonds, 15. "It's a great feeling to go home and know that you not only help another person but you have helped yourself to become a better person."

The drive is not only spearheaded by students, they go out to buy the food themselves. "The kids do the food drive themselves and I just lend my support wherever I can," says Klapakis "Regardless of the economic backgrounds, the students at Bennett are extremely generous.

Klapakis and her class have been giving to charities for the past three years. It started at Traditional in 2003 where the class was first formed and then it was moved to Bennett in 2004. At first students did only the Thanksgiving food drive, but every year they find more ways to help out. To date the class has raised $2,824 -- $554 for the 2004 Thanksgiving food drive; $700, which was matched with a $500 donation from the Left Bank restaurant to make a total of $1,200 for tsunami victims; $570 for the American Red Cross to help hurricane victims; and $426 for the 2005 Thanksgiving food drive.

The class also participated last May in a Multiple Sclerosis Walk because student Louis Walton's grandmother has MS; this time the community students brought 40 other Bennett students with them.

"I always get excited to see what Ms. Klapakis and her class has in store next," says Bennett senior Joe Hawthorn. "I'm always willing to give to a good cause.

Klapakis and her class already have their next project lined up; they plan to build a wheelchair ramp for Louis's grandmother but are looking for others to help. Klapakis says "Sometimes you just have to ask others for help for big projects like this, and you are just amazed with the response."

Tony Nash is a senior at Bennett High School.

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A song fest

By JESSICA YOX - NeXt Correspondent

Elizabeth Shea, a sophomore at Sacred Heart Academy, has brought Christmas joy to nursing home residents for the past five years.

When she was 10 years old, her grandfather became ill and was transported to Beechwood Nursing Home around the holiday season. "I felt that the residents needed some holiday cheer," said Liz as she described her first Christmas show where she played the piano and sang Christmas tunes. Since then, her "Tis the Season for Giving Back" idea has exploded into a holiday tradition.

Last year she gathered eight girls -- some singing, others playing flute and clarinet -- to perform six shows.

This year, at the first show on Dec. 4 at Beechwood, Liz played the piano and sang, along with senior Katy Nowak and sophomores Caitlin Hodson and Monica Radel, who are Chamber Singers. Sophomores Julianna Wojcik and Allison Borcuch played the flute. The group practiced for a month to prepare. "It's not hard to perform but it's hard to find time for everyone to practice together; it's all worth it in the end however," Liz said. "I like seeing the delighted faces as we sing," she said.

In introducing the show, Caitlin told the more than 40 assembled residents the girls were there "just to brighten your day!" The song list included 18 Christmas classics, including "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Jingle Bells." The girls mixed harmonies, a capella tunes, and descants to keep the audience interested. Volunteers, workers, and some residents' family members stopped to listen. Some residents responded "Girls, you were great" or "You were a pleasure to listen to", making this small effort even more rewarding.

Jessica Yox is a sophomore at Sacred Heart Academy.

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Boxes and cans

By BRIAN HAYDEN - NeXt Correspondent

In the bitter cold of December, students from St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute pack up food donated to the annual Food Basket and journey to the Warming House in Olean, a soup kitchen run by St. Bonaventure University students.

"There is an immediate satisfaction in feeding those who hunger," says Trevor Thompson, director of the 35-year-old Warming House, which serves a 4:45 p.m. dinner from Sunday to Friday every week. Among the 30 guests served daily are the "working poor, those in deep rural poverty, those in transitional times in their life, and a contingent of elderly unable to provide for their needs," said Thompson.

At least 75 percent of non-perishable food items at the Warming House this year came from the Food Basket. History teacher Charles Ende has directed the Food Basket drive since it began in 1970. "When we began this, it was both a clothing and a food drive. We only had enough clothing and food to fill the trunk of my car. Last year, we gathered 50,000 items of food. I guess you can say it has grown."

Each morning, nearly 60 student volunteers gather from 6:30 to 8:15 a.m. in the Student Commons to accept and sort food. In the week before Christmas, trucks are loaded and a group of students delivers the donations to the Warming House.

"It's great to know that all the guys come together," said senior Kenny Byrd, a third-year volunteer. "It shows the brotherhood of St. Joe's; that we are a place of values." Added sophomore and first year-volunteer Ben Macaluso: "It's a lot of guys coming together to help people they never even met. That's pretty cool."

Brian Hayden is a senior at St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute

St. Joe's Food Basket accepts donations weekdays from 6:30 a.m. to 8:15 a.m. through Dec. 21.

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