Cooper students learn about giving and receiving
A table in the counselor’s office at Cooper Elementary School is covered with neat piles. Some are applications, some are flyers and most are about Christmas giving. There are several ways that families with children at Cooper can enjoy Christmas this year.
Although Bella Vista appears prosperous, the student population at Cooper includes 28 percent who qualify for free or reduced school lunches. Many of those families don’t look for extra help at Christmas, counselor Buddy Herndon said, but there are families that just can’t afford the extra expenses of the holidays. He always checks with the parents before offering help to a child.
Herndon knows several ways that people in need can get help for the holidays. He helps the local police department chose the participants for “Shop With A Cop.” Officers take needy kids to Walmart and they shop for the child and the family.
When churches call with offers to help, Herndon can help match them with a family. A family provides information about their needs, including clothing sizes and the children’s interests and a match is made. But it’s not just churches that want to adopt a family, Herndon said. Individuals, including school staff, also want to help.
Each year some students are faced with an emergency, he said. These are the families that typically don’t ask for help, but a sudden illness or job loss may leave them facing a bleak Christmas. A Facebook group is one of the ways emergencies can be met.
Not long ago, Herndon learned about a student who was living with his mother in an apartment that was virtually empty. The mother had abruptly left an abusive relationship and couldn’t afford basic furniture. When Herndon put the word out on “Cooper Gives Back,” a Facebook page, offers started rolling in. A separate Facebook page, “Positively Bella Vista,” also put the word out and Herndon spent days coordinating all the offers to ensure the family didn’t receive duplicates of couches, beds and tables.
He spent a day with his own truck and trailer picking up donations. So did a couple of the Positively Bella Vista members. At the end of the day, the apartment was completely furnished, including dishes, bedding, and even some toys.
“It was a blessing,” Herndon said.
The district’s social workers and the district-wide Bright Futures program were also involved.
He posted a thank-you note written by the young student that said, “When you surprised me, I was so happy. I thought that was in a dream … I hope I can live here forever.”
Cooper kids learn that Christmas is about giving as well as receiving. The Cooper PTO sponsors a Santa Shop where the students can shop for their families. The merchandise is mostly donated and priced very low. But a few families still can’t afford it, so the PTO gives each teacher at the school a few vouchers so that every single student can shop.
Two organizations, both the K-Kids, a group related Kiwanis, and the student council, have their own service projects. The K-Kids have been making cards for veterans and for nursing home residents. They will probably both help with a fundraiser for the Children’s Hospital.
The school will hold a school-wide canned food drive this month, and many families participated in the coat drive that was organized by the POA’s Community Involvement Committee. Some Cooper kids will receive those coats once they have been sorted and organized, Herndon said.
“They enjoy the giving back,” he explained.
Tiffany Hastings of the Cooper Elementary Parent Teacher Organization adjusts the star on a tree in the school’s lobby. The PTO is one of the organizations that help ensure all Cooper kids enjoy a merry Christmas.