Barrington fourth-graders share holiday spirit, gifts with homeless

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Students and families from a pair of Hampden Meadows School classrooms banned together recently to help some struggling families have a memorable holiday season.

It’s not the first time, either.

For the last 13 years, Hampden Meadows teacher Sandra Ginalski has led an annual charitable drive to collect gifts for residents of the Interim House Shelter, in Providence.

The shelter can accommodate up to six families at a time for six to 10 weeks. The shelter has serviced more than 3,000 families since it opened in 1983 and includes a food pantry, clothing bank and numerous social services.

Michelle Middleton is director of Interim House Shelter. She is also a mom who previously had a child in Ms. Ginalski’s class. The partnership began when Ms. Ginalski said the class wanted to do something to help homeless families and children, a population Ms. Middleton knew all too well.

“As you can imagine, just being homeless in general is an extremely stressful times on their lives. Couple that with the holidays and it’s very stressful. It’s very sad and depressing for some of them,” Ms. Middleton said.

The charitable effort has brought toys and other items to dozens of children over the years. The program has even expanded in recent holiday seasons to include another fourth grade teacher, Kevin Farley, along with his students and their families.

Ms. Middleton provides Ms. Ginalski with a list of each family and what they’re hoping to get each holiday season. It’s a range of items that includes staples such as gift cards, toy soldiers and stuffed animals to more contemporary selections. This year, for example, one family asked for anything “Twilight.”

Each student’s family can keep track of which items are available and which items have been picked up using a website. Once all of the items have been selected, parents and students get together for a wrapping party. On Friday afternoon, local students and their parents gathered to wrap presents.

“It’s always nice to brighten someone’s day by giving them a present or something,” said fourth-grader Collin Jones.

“They don’t always get what they want. They don’t always get what they need. It’s nice to give them something to brighten their day.”

Ms. Ginalski said the project teaches children to think beyond themselves and have empathy for others. It also has an obvious charitable component.

“For me, I just feel like my life has been really blessed, and the job can be stressful with testing and such and if I can use this job as a venue to bring goodness to others, why not?” Ms. Ginalski asked rhetorically.

The annual effort wraps up each year with a collection event. Ms. Middleton visits Hampden Meadows School and loads up an SUV full of decorated leaf bags that have been used to separate gifts among respective families. This collection day also comes with a visitor — a shelter resident who knows firsthand what it means to receive such a donation this time of year.

Last year, the day featured a child the same age as Ms. Ginalski’s fourth-graders. Ms. Middleton said the questions are what you would expect from 9, 10 and 11 years old such as how did someone become homeless, how do they stay in touch with friends, and how do they get back and forth to school.

Ms. Middleton also said the shelter probably wouldn’t be able to run without the contributions.

“The kindness and generosity that these children show, it’s overwhelming. You wouldn’t even believe how much they’re providing for these families,” she said.

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