• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

St. Leo celebrates Christmas by giving to others

ANNA PHELAN, 7, and her mom, Bonnie Phelan, were among the many students and parents who helped unpack donated toys for St. Leo School’s Christmas Store. (Photo by Bob Vlach)

Before starting their own Christmas vacations last Friday afternoon, students, parents and teachers helped unpack hundreds of toys and other items donated to St. Leo School’s Christmas Store. Unpacking donations for this year’s Christmas Store was an opportunity for Jenny Renaud to teach her 6-year-old son, Michael, the value of volunteering and caring about others. “Not everyone has everything that we have. Not everyone is fortunate to be able to provide a … Christmas for their children,” said Renaud. When less-fortunate families in the community did their shopping at St. Leo’s Christmas Store on Saturday, Dec. 19, students, parents, teachers and parishioners from St. Leo were again there to help. “We’re a community. We’re family. They’re committed to helping,” said fifth-grade teacher Patty Dawson. She said their involvement supports a theme for this school year: Caring for God’s Creation. “This,” explained Dawson, “is another way of caring for people.” While shopping at the Christmas Store last Saturday, parents were able to choose a new and a gently used toy for each child in their families as well as a pair of gloves, a hat, a package of socks and underwear. Games, stocking stuffers and houseware items were also available to families coming to the Christmas Store at St. Leo. Families with babies received bags with diapers, wipes and other baby-care items. Toiletry and personal care items were also available if families needed them. “Some people just need a little extra support,” said Dawson. “And some people really just don’t have anything.” The St. Leo knitting club’s 25 or so members made more than 400 stocking hats this year. Selling about 300 of those hats for $5 each meant the club raised $1,600 to purchase gloves, socks and underwear for the Christmas Store, according to Dawson. She said the remaining 100 or so hats were available to families shopping at the Christmas Store on Saturday. In addition to the many donated toys coming from families at St. Leo School, parishioners at St. Leo Catholic Church and others in the community, Hasbro again made a large toy donation to St. Leo’s Christmas Store. The parents of about 750 children shopped for toys and other donated items during last year’s Christmas Store. But because of the high number of telephone calls received from parents and others by last Friday, Dawson predicted, “There may be more” shoppers this year. Seeing their smiling faces on Saturday helped remind 11-year-old Ella Oberlander and 12-year-old Monica Seitz that “some people aren’t as fortunate as us.” Bonnie Phelan said her 7-year-old daughter, Anna, “was really excited to be here (volunteering on Friday) because we’re helping people.” St. Leo has been opening a Christmas Store for less-fortunate in the community for 11 years. Seeing St. Leo students helping those less-fortunate than them at Christmastime puts a smile on the face of Helena DiBiasie, St. Leo’s interim principal. “They know how much they’re getting by giving,” said DiBiasie. Her grown daughter, Jackie DiBiasie Sammons, was among many former students who returned to St. Leo School for this annual event, which celebrates giving back to others. “She’s a college professor (in Tennessee) now, and she wouldn’t miss Christmas Store,” said DiBiasie, wiping away tears from her eye. Being able to serve others has made a lasting difference in the lives of many adults who remember volunteering as students. “It’s been a life-changing experience for them because they keep coming back – time after time,” DiBiasie said.

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