Christmas elves of all sizes are being called on to meet the needs and wish lists of 60 children at Cleveland Middle School through the annual Raider Tree program.
“They are middle schoolers, but they are still kids,” said counselor Miranda Whittington. “They know when they come back from Christmas break everyone will be asking, ‘Well, what did you get?’ Do you really want to be the kid who says they got nothing because their family is poor?”
Every year students are identified by teachers and counselors Whittington, Luz Price and Tammy Adams.
Elementary school counselors update Whittington on which sixth-graders may need a little extra Christmas cheer. Students who request school supplies and clothes at the beginning of the year are immediately placed on the Raider Tree suggestion list.
Whittington contacts parents once students have been identified. If a parent confirms they are in need of help, then the student will fill out a Raider Tree form. Questions include what their needs are for clothes, their sizes, a wish list and their favorite items.
Whittington also cross checks with the Refuge, First Baptist and Bradley Baptist Association to ensure no duplication of gifts.
Each student who qualifies is given a number and placed on the CMS Christmas tree. The entire process is anonymous.
Whittington is the only person who knows which numbers correlate with which children. Sometimes students still hazard a guess.
“Last year, I had [tags] which were still on the tree [closer to the cut-off date],” Whittington said. “Students tried to figure out what number they were to take their number, because they thought if they were still on the tree then they would not get a gift.”
She has since rectified the issue by comparing the Raider Tree tags to the sign-out sheet every day.
Parents and community members visiting the school are encouraged to sponsor a child from the tree. Students are permitted to pick up a tag for their family to sponsor with a parent’s note. Whittington then contacts the parent to ensure they know a tag is coming their way.
Some wish lists are elaborate, with requests for bicycles and iPods. A majority are requesting items like Bath and Body Works products, jewelry, books, binders, board games, remote-controlled cars and, in some cases, bedding or pillows.
Whittington suggested using a student’s favorite list when purchasing other items on the tag. If a student is a fan of Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight,” then they might enjoy pencils with the book or movie theme. If their favorite color is green, then bedding of the same color should be a safe choice.
All gifts are due back Dec. 11. Whittington suggested those sponsoring a student keep a lookout for holiday sales, whether on Black Friday or as “doorbusters.”
A stipulation of the process is every tag must receive four bags. The bags can be filled with one item apiece or bursting to the brim with gifts. Every bag needs the tag number on the outside.
Providing for a child’s Christmas needs is a part of the holistic care CMS attempts to provide.
“We care not only for academics, but also for their social and emotional well-being,” Whittington said. “When we care for their families, we let them know we care for their whole person. We want to make sure they are taken care of and that creates a relationship with the family, and in turn we are hopefully changing our community.”
All gifts will be passed out by Whittington and members of the Junior Auxiliary who do not currently have a child attending CMS.
Everyone will meet on a Sunday when no one else is at school. Parents can either choose to pick up the gifts alone or bring the little recipients. Often the middle schoolers receive their gifts firsthand so they can also take a photo with Santa, eat candy and drink hot chocolate.
Whittington said the middle school counts on the community to make the Raider Tree program a success.
“Christmas is a special time of year,” Whittington said. “I think [middle school students] still believe if they wish hard enough for it, then Mom and Dad will somehow find the extra money. You still want your new clothes to wear back from break.”
Questions can be directed to Miranda Whittington by calling Cleveland Middle School at 479-9641.