St. Mary eighth-graders created angel trees for the school and St. Mary Church, complete with ornaments bearing the ages and gender of children in low-income families in the area who would benefit from the Christmas gifts.
Catholic Charities of East Tennessee and the eighth-graders collected the donated toys for the Dec. 5 distribution at the school. Catholic Charities helps collect toy donations from across the region for the annual event and noted that the St. Mary students have been a major part of the effort for the past 25 years.
“This is their service project for Advent. They were required to make about 40 of the ornaments. The ornament on one side has instructions for when to bring the gift and where to bring it. The other side has either boy or girl and an age range like birth to two or six to eight. Then the ornaments are hung on the tree in back of the church and in front of the school. Additionally, the eighth-graders are assigned a particular grade. They then go to the class rooms and talk to the kids about the giving tree, and encourage them to bring a gift in for a child,” said Marsha Sega, an eighth-grade teacher at St. Mary who has coordinated the program for more than two decades.
Ms. Sega said she inherited the program when she began teaching eighth grade in 1987.
She said this year the 23 students in eighth grade participated in the event, which will help provide toys to hundreds of children who attend the Crazy Quilt Christmas party.
“My understanding is that the party will have about 600 kids. We have been told that for some of these children this will be their only Christmas gift,” Ms. Sega said.
St. Mary eighth-grader Madelyn Fahhoum has been participating in the Crazy Quilt Christmas toy drive since she was in pre-kindergarten at the school. It’s something she’s enjoyed taking part in each year.
Madelyn estimates the St. Mary students and Catholic Charities collected nearly as many gifts as there will be children.
“It’s such a blessing to bring the presents. I think we have over 400 presents,” Madelyn said. “It’s wonderful to see the joy on the people’s faces, but unfortunately we won’t be able to see the kids actually receive the gifts. But I just think knowing that we’re giving and making an impact on someone’s life is wonderful.”
Ms. Sega believes the students get as much or more from the activity as those receiving gifts and even learn important skills.
“This is one of the things that’s the highlight of the eighth-grade year. It’s one of the things that they look forward to be able to do every year,” she said. “This service project for the students is filled with great life lessons. By visiting classes to deliver this message, our students also gain some valuable experience in public speaking and marketing sales. And through a written essay and a toy donation, students can also earn a spot on the delivery team.”
The delivery team travels to the Crazy Quilt Friendship Center in Jellico with the donated toys to help sort them by age and gender and organize them for distribution. At the Christmas party, children are invited in shifts to pick their favorite toy from an assortment of donated items in their age group.
Established in 1975, the Crazy Quilt Friendship Center in Newcomb, Tenn., which is a Catholic Charities organization, serves the people of Campbell and surrounding counties on the Tennessee/Kentucky border near Jellico.
The Crazy Quilt Center provides wellness and life skills, outlets for creativity and independence, workshops and training, affordable used clothing, a food pantry and emergency help.