Damian Garcia took a cue from Santa as he pulled a large bag on his back.
The fourth-grader then ended up carrying two weighty bags into Washington Elementary School.
But Garcia wasn’t the only huge-sack hauler. Members of Full Life Church in Fremont and other students toted several clothing-stuffed bags and boxes of shoes into the local school.
Inside, Erin Wegener fought tears when she saw the large pile of bagged clothes — ready to be given to schoolchildren who need warm gear this winter.
“Thank you guys,” said Wegener, the school counselor. “This helps a ton.”
On Thursday, Full Life Church — with help from local businesses and individuals — donated more than 700 items, which included 37 pairs of shoes and 13 winter coats for children who attend the Fremont school.
The donation came after a month-long gathering process to help kids at the school which serves 310 students from pre-kindergarten through fourth-grade.
Wegener said the donation will benefit the schoolchildren.
“It means opportunities for the kids,” she said. “They can go play. They can run in P.E. They can be typical kids without having the fear of being teased or made fun of because they don’t have the appropriate shoes, they don’t have enough clothes.”
Without the appropriate clothing, many children couldn’t go outside for recess in cold weather, because it wouldn’t have been safe. Wegener has seen several instances of children needing coats, sweaters, gloves and hats.
Usually, a school staff member will buy needed items.
Earlier this week, a child needed shoes.
“He had holes in his shoes and we had nothing,” Wegener said.
English Language Learners teacher Sarah Gutekunst also mentioned the need for socks, because children outgrow them so quickly.
After the Thursday presentation, she quietly looked at the large pile of sacks.
“I’m trying really hard not to cry,” Gutekunst said, speaking barely above a whisper. “Our kids come from really great families. They just need a little bit of help sometimes.”
Full Life Lead Pastor Mike Washburn expressed the church’s willingness to assist.
“We love to be a resource for the community to try to bless people,” Washburn said. “Jesus has blessed us and we want to bless others. That’s our goal. Our mission slogan is ‘Love God Passionately and Love People Compassionately.’”
“I like that a lot,” she said softly.
A decision to help the school came during a church leader team meeting.
In 2017, the church adopted a family for Christmas.
When the church’s leadership team met last year, a member explained the need many students at Washington Elementary have for winter clothing.
So the church decided to adopt the school.
JJ Hartung, a leader at the church, contacted Washington Elementary Principal Diane Stevens, who listed the needed items which included coats, sweatpants, socks and shoes — any type of winter gear.
Hartung and Josh Meyer, administrative assistant, went to work on the Washington Elementary Outreach project, announced to parishioners on Dec. 6.
Members of the congregation and the public had until Jan. 6 to donate the items, which also included undergarments.
Meyer and Hartung used social media and the Tribune to spread word of the project and invite the public to participate.
“It was overwhelming to see the support of a lot of people from the community stopping in during (church) business hours and dropping off clothes — people who don’t even attend Full Life,” Hartung said.
Hartung talked with local companies. Companies providing financial donations were D&T Shirtified; Diers Ford and Sid Dillion-Chevrolet in Fremont.
Shoe Sensation at Fremont Mall donated footwear.
Hartung said he found the donations humbling and awesome.
Before church members brought the donations, Hartung called Wegener, letting her know about the hundreds of items.
“I got goosebumps and started crying, because I knew what it would mean to be able to not have to search for things for kids — or to be able to provide a kid with something right away,” Wegener said.
Washburn offered future help to the school and church members confirmed a desire to serve the community.
“We have a church family that really cares about people,” said member Roger Roach. “Jesus set the example for us to reach out to others. We’re here to help one another.”
Hartung could see how the clothes and shoes would help the students.
“These items are going to a good cause and these kids are going to be blessed because of everyone’s donations,” Hartung said. “It brings joy to my heart and blesses and humbles me to see the work of Christ go forth.”
The Fremont Area Habitat for Humanity is known for its efforts in helping families create affordable housing. But this year, Habitat is hoping to expand its charitable efforts.
For 2019, the group is aiming to do “12 months of giving,” by collecting donations for a different local non-profit every month.
“Basically it was just a way for us to help support other non-profits or other agencies throughout the community that were seeking items, or any way that we can help,” said Kesha Schuller, family services manager for the Fremont Area Habitat for Humanity.
Each month, Schuller talks with the chosen non-profit to determine what items they need. Then, Habitat puts out the word and starts collecting donations.
Last month, Habitat kicked off its efforts with “Coffee and Kleenex,” a drive to collect coffee or Kleenex for LifeHouse, the organization formerly known as Care Corps.
For January, Habitat is collecting “Socks and Skivvies” — socks and underwear — for Lutheran Family Services’ boutique where its clients can shop.
“That was one of the things that they said, oftentimes, families go without,” Schuller said.
Donations can be brought to Habitat’s office at 701 E Dodge Street during office hours from Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. There’s also a box out by the Habitat HomeStore on Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. or Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Schuller also said that someone can come and pick up donations if they can’t otherwise be dropped off. To inquire about pickups, or for more information, call Schuller at (402) 721-8771 ext. 3.
Donations have been scarce so far, Schuller said, though this month’s drive only started a week ago. Last month’s drive saw some donations, but Schuller noted that the drive was still new and that there are still ongoing efforts to spread the word.
Habitat is still working to finalize its list of nonprofits for the rest of the year, Schuller said.
Donations can be made until Jan. 31.
This week, each of Fremont Public Schools elementary buildings received a visit from magician Jeff Quinn.
But Quinn’s performances didn’t just give kids the opportunity to be mystified. His show centers around the idea of “kindness,” and aims to help teach kids to be kind to one another, says Bell Field Elementary School Counselor Ainslee Kroenke.
“Really the reason we wanted to do it is because kindness and empathy and treating each other well is really a big thing that we’re always focusing on and teaching the kids,” Kroenke said. “Anytime that we have an opportunity to teach them and reinforce that, host things with fun involved too, we just really enjoy being able to do that for them.”
Kroenke said that Quinn performed magic tricks, but also mixed in skits that involved the students to help show examples of how you could be kind to others.
He had four kindness points that he wanted the kids to remember, and that his performance sought to emphasize: “lend a hand, say nice things, include others and get help.”
At Bell Field, where Quinn performed Wednesday afternoon, those points were later re-emphasized during the school day, said Kroenke, who helped organize Quinn’s performances.
On Thursday, Quinn hit Grant and Clarmar Elementary Schools
His visit was funded through a grant, Kroenke said.
It was a big week for kindness at Fremont Public Schools.
On Tuesday and Wednesday over at Johnson Crossing Academic Center, fifth graders took part in a “kindness retreat” with the organization Youth Frontiers. The event aimed to help kids reflect on the importance of being kind and consider ways they could be kinder.
Kroenke said there wasn’t any specific intention to line up the “kindness” magic show with the kindness retreat. Rather, kindness is a regular part of education in the Fremont Public Schools system, she said.
“It’s really something that we’re always working on,” she said.
Earlier this school year, Fremont Public Schools had a #BeKind day that emphasized kind acts done by students. Later this month, there will be a “Great Kindness Challenge,” Kroenke said.
“It really is just something that we’re always focusing on and trying to continuously find new ways to teach and reinforce the importance of kindness and empathy and treating each other well,” Kroenke said.