NIAGARA FALLS -- While some people seem to forget that Christianity and Christmas are a lot about helping the less fortunate, a large number of Niagara Falls High School students remembered that lesson in recent days.
House Principal Susan Green said she was proud to say that more than 100 students sidestepped the "shop 'til you drop" mentality and worked hard the week before the holiday break to give 102 poor city families something to smile about.
It was all part of the "Adopt a Family" and "Twelve Days of Christmas" programs, in which students work with Community Missions, an agency that provides referral, crisis, community support and residential services.
Student Council President Allie M. Dell said that a large group of Wolverines -- with the leadership of several teachers -- purchased and wrapped gifts, raised money and collected food for some of the city's neediest families.
Student participants were from several English classes, the Student Council and the Niagara Falls High School Key Club, a community service group. They also included several students who came on board independently. All were driven to do the right thing.
C. Nigel Brown, a 17-year-old senior, said he raised money to help the effort by selling candy, such as M&Ms and Hershey chocolates, to fellow students and school staff. He also wrapped presents and moved packages so Community Missions personnel could deliver them to families.
"Everybody went for it because it was such a beautiful thing," Brown said. "It affected all of us and brought everybody together. I did it because it's part of my own personal morals. When I see somebody that's down and out, I like to help them if I can."
Dell said her council group got involved and helped five families at the request of English teacher Christine Farino. Those families have a total of 18 children.
"Mrs. Farino came to me and asked me if I would help and get the Student Council involved in her toy drive," Dell said. "She asked the kids in her [five] English classes to bring a toy, and we ended getting over 200 gifts just for those kids."
Brown, one of Farino's students, said the students paid for the toys.
Several kids brought in more than $100 worth of gifts, Dell said. She said the Student Council donated about $50 from its account to buy the remaining two or three things that were still needed for some families.
Key Club leader Joseph M. Crane said club members did much the same thing for five other families that included 25 children.
"We brought in a lot of dolls for girls, trucks for boys and a lot of other gifts," Crane said. "There were clothes and things like Barbie sets and jewelry sets. We wrapped all the presents and made sure they were right for the kids before we sent them on to Community Missions."
Dell said three radio-compact disc players, several walkie-talkies and a very large remote-control car were among the donated gifts.
"Some people even brought in porcelain dolls," she said.
Brown said perfume and bath or body care sets also were donated, and one teacher went out and bought 20 DVDs to be used as presents.
Green said many students also helped with the "Twelve Days of Christmas" campaign, which involved food collection.
The school dedicated a collection room filled with tables that were full of food. Dell said many students stayed after school to separate the foods and put them into packages so families had the right ingredients for a good Christmas dinner: turkey, ham and other fixings.
"We did it because we wanted to help families that couldn't afford to give their kids presents," Dell said. "Most of us get presents at Christmas every single year, but there are some people who get nothing, not even one present. There's actually quite a bit of that in this city. So we did whatever we could to help out."
"What impressed me," Green said, "was there wasn't a student involved -- whether they had or didn't have a lot -- who wasn't enthusiastically ready to help other families in Niagara Falls."