SUMITON — A wide network of people has helped make Christmas possible this year for children who attend Sumiton Middle School.
For nearly a decade the school has provided Christmas gifts for students who are less fortunate. Counselor Ashleigh Lockhart explained that the Toys for Tots program serves children who are 12 and under, meaning some students in their early teens at the school don't receive Christmas gifts.
"That is how this was born. We wanted to help our kids that didn't receive through Toys for Tots," Lockhart said.
An average of 50 students receive gifts through the effort each year, some of whom are faculty-sponsored; however, churches, area youth groups, organizations, parents, school clubs and community members also purchase toys, clothes, bicycles and other needs for the cause.
Lockhart said the North Alabama Realtors Caravan sponsored 15 children this year, and the school's Beta Club collected hygiene products to also be distributed with the gifts.
"We have tons of outpouring help from the community and then here at the school as well. It's like a village," Lockhart said.
The program is discreet in that sponsors do not know which children they are sponsoring, and many children are unaware they have even been sponsored. Parents secretly pick up the gifts and have them under the tree for their children on Christmas morning.
The majority of items are also gift wrapped upon pickup, thanks to faculty members and wrapping volunteers.
"It is a huge undertaking, but it is a blessing," Lockhart said. "When you have parents pick up and they're very appreciative and have tears in their eyes and say, 'I never imagined we would have this much Christmas,' it's all worth it."
Lockhart said some parents who have had a child sponsored in the past often contribute to the effort in later years, once their financial status has improved.
Principal Chris Stephenson said he is thankful to the people who make sure the children are not forgotten during Christmas each year.
"The main thing is you've got to have people willing to do it," he said. "It's great to have the vision to do it, but you've got to do the legwork. There are so many people in the community and teachers that help."
Lockhart said school faculty/staff members Rachel Earnest, Lee Ann Sellers and Trish Key have been very instrumental in organizing the effort.
Parents picked up the gifts for their children on Wednesday and Thursday, prior to school letting out for Christmas break.
"The kids are very appreciative and so are the parents," Lockhart said.