Associated School: 

This week's blog is a joint effort from Staff Members Vanessa Van Burek and Matthew Gioia.  They both reflect on their recent experiences with gifts, giving and community.

One thousand.

That is the number of children that the People's Place of Kingston, a local food pantry, is trying to collect gifts for this holiday season.

As I prepare for Christmas in my own house I find myself excited for Christmas morning; for the unpacking of stockings, the huge smiles, the peeking through the french doors at a tree laden with wrapped goodies. I am fortunate. I have the time and the money to invest in my children having a magical Christmas. But many people aren't as lucky. While we busied ourselves with Christmas preparations we also stumbled upon the recent New York Times article "Invisible Child". The article follows Dasani, a girl struggling to survive as her family lives in a shelter in NYC. It was a humbling and devastating article and the timing made a huge impression on Ava, who, like Dasani, is eleven. Ava said “She’s my age and she is taking care of her whole family. What am I doing? Sitting here looking at my computer.”

That's where community comes into play. This year our School Meeting passed a motion to partner with People's Place of Kingston to help collect gifts. Beginning at the Winter Gift Sale, cards were strung through the school, each with the age and gender of a registered child. Shoppers selected the card or cards they wanted and purchased gifts at the sale for them. Vendors were supportive of the effort and offered deep discounts for shoppers purchasing gifts for this program. By the end of the day we had 25 high quality gifts - 25 purchases that supported local artists; a win – win.

In addition, Sudbury families purchased gifts at other locations and dropped them at the school. Over 100 presents were collected. The kids were beaming with pride and excitement as we packed the car full of gifts to take down to People's Place. We can’t end homelessness, but we all have the ability to at least provide a smile to a deserving child.

After we dropped off the gifts I asked Ava how she felt.  She said, “I felt proud to be a part of collecting gifts. I felt like a Superhero. Helping collect gifts is one small step. It made me feel better because it’s going to kids like Dasani.”



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The gifts were opened one-by-one, because everyone wanted to see every gift.  As each recipient opened their gift they held it aloft so the crowd could gaze, mutter proclamations of astounded joy under their breath, and then shout and clap with glee.  I'm not kidding.  I was impressed by how well thought out and selected the gifts were; they matched their recipients perfectly, even when there were significant age gaps or the giver-receiver pair hadn't spent much time together.  Very observant group.  Reflecting on this, I realized the real value of the whole Secretive Santa game, and I felt remiss for failing to properly honor and respect it myself.  The game, from the selecting of names, to the sleuthing for information, to the grand event, strengthens the school community, creating fresh bonds and invigorating old ones.  It felt like a family event and, if I may be a a bit dramatic and use some religious metaphor, that fulfilled the promise of Christmas for me: the revelation of family-like community.

I don't have any studies to site today, but it seems self-evident to me that kind of community - larger than the nuclear family and including a greater variety of people than a single family ever could, but still caring and attentive - is the best kind environment for kids to grow, mature, and just be in.


- Matthew

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Hudson Valley Sudbury School

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Kingston, NY 12401
Phone: 845-679-1002
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