- Published on Tuesday, 08 December 2015 13:47
- Written by Breanna Bright
For those that go without, that struggle throughout the year the holiday season is a chance for hope. The holidays can be an extra financial burden, but the Student Santa’s organization believes that everyone deserves a merry Christmas. So - much like the real Santa - they are answering the letters of children and delivering help for any who ask.
Jennifer Gast is the founder of Student Santas, “Years ago I watched my young children tear into their presents on Christmas morning, and became sad at the thought of other children rushing into their living rooms and finding nothing. As a mother, this thought was just too devastating.”
A professor at Southeast Missouri State University, Jennifer decided to offer her students bonus points during their finals. For each toy her students brought in to donate they would receive up to 20 points. The response was overwhelming: her students were donating up to 50 toys each, well beyond the bonus point limit. Jennifer saw an opportunity to make a real difference.
The charitable group is more than just a catch for donations. Jennifer says they serve a very unique purpose, “Student Santas allows our community to actually ‘adopt’ families in need. This is something that so many want to do . . . they just don't know how to go about doing it. It's very personal. People get to receive actual letters from those in need, shop for them, and deliver to their homes.”
With their personal touch Student Santa’s is able to cater to the special circumstances of everyone who asks for help, “One particular story I'd love to share . . . We helped a single dad get through Christmas several years ago. He lost his job, his wife had died, and he had three little children. We were able to provide toys, clothes, pajamas, and even some beds to them. I received - two years later - a letter from him! He sent three dollars! He said, ‘You did so much to help my family I wanted to give to you.’ I got to see Student Santas go full circle, this is what it's all about.”
All funding and donations Student Santas receive are completely spent each year to make sure every family gets what they need. Some parents need help putting presents under the tree, others need coats, or warm food, “We started out giving close to 1,500 toys away and now we've helped close to 17,000 children and their families with not only toys but clothes, bedding, and coats as well.” On Christmas Day Student Santa’s also hosts a Christmas dinner that is free for families in need, “This year we hope to feed 300 people.”
From the classroom to the state of Missouri, Jennifer hopes to keep Student Santa’s growing by opening more chapters in different states throughout the country.
For anyone needing help this holiday season, or if you know a family in need click here. If you want to volunteer with Student Santas, donate, or learn more about them visit their website. Learn about upcoming fundraisers on their Facebook.
The Christmas dinner will be held Christmas Day at Jefferson Elementary School in Cape Girardeau from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.