By Paula Schlueter Ross
After nearly 20 years of teaching, Shirley Leidecker says she “had enough coffee cups and ornaments to last a lifetime.”
The holiday gifts from her young students were nice, but Leidecker, now a first-grade teacher at Immanuel Lutheran School in Macomb, Mich., “thought that money could be put to better use and still involve letting the children give their teacher a Christmas present.”
So, 10 years ago she started sharing an idea with parents at Immanuel’s “Back to School” night in September: Instead of buying a teacher gift at Christmas, why not donate the money they would have spent to a fund the students could use to buy groceries for the congregation’s food pantry?
The money is collected by the “head room parent,” who lets the students and their teacher know the final amount. Leidecker says she “doesn’t want to know” who gave what to the fund — just the total, so that the class can make a list of what to buy prior to their shopping trip.
Then, in February, on or around Valentine’s Day, Leidecker’s class and parent chaperones take a field trip to a local low-cost grocery store and purchase as much food as they can with the money they’ve received.
“This year the Christmas gift took on additional significance, as one of my students took the pop-can return money he had been saving for a charity since summer and added over $150 to the total given for this project,” Leidecker said, bringing the total to $515. “It’s a joy to see the children realize that they have so much more than many around us and that Jesus wants us to share what He has so abundantly blessed us with.”
Student Joshua James, 7, says “we wanted to help people that don’t have as much as we do. Jesus would be happy because we’re serving Him in love.”
Leidecker added that “serving one another in love,” from Gal. 5:13, “was our Bible verse for memory work” a few weeks after the Feb. 13 shopping trip. “It’s great when children can relate their memory work to the activities in which they are involved,” she said.
Six-year-old Connor Karcher, who had collected the extra $150 for the fund by recycling aluminum cans for several months, said he gave his “charity money” to the class project “because I really, really, really wanted to help the poor.”
Parents, too, have been supportive of the project and “look forward to going on the shopping trip as drivers and chaperones,” according to Leidecker.
To date, Leidecker’s students have donated about $3,000 worth of food to the pantry, which serves local families by referral through the United Way.
“This idea has been a wonderful help to us because there are some items that are more difficult to get for our pantry,” said Nancy Kruger, minister of outreach at Immanuel. “Mrs. Leidecker has come up with a great way to make this idea work for everyone all the way around.
“It helps the pantry, it is the kind of Christmas gift that is meaningful for her, and it helps the kids learn at the same time.”
Posted May 5, 2009