Michael J. Vallely, Ph.D.Superintendent of SchoolsLancaster Central School District177 Central AvenueLancaster, NY 14086District Clerk/Secretary:Sandra Janik716-686-3201
Dear Lancaster Parents, Family, and Friends...At last year’s Day of Giving in December, I spent my morning at the Lancaster Youth Bureau wrapping gifts for families in our community. Like many years prior, I sat surrounded by numerous children’s toys that had been donated, trying to help get items wrapped before the families arrived.
Started in 1992, the annual event now involves so many in our school community, from our students, staff, community members, fire and police departments, and many more. They are all volunteers who step up to lend a hand to others.
Each year the Lancaster Youth Bureau works with the Lancaster schools, families, and community members to assist families in need during the holiday season. Through a collaboration with the Western New York Holiday Partnership, as well as food, clothing, toy, and monetary donations from the school communities in Lancaster, over 120 families received food, gifts, and evergreen trees to make a memorable holiday.
This year’s event on December 18 looked slightly different as the families drove through for a curbside distribution, rather than attend an in-person event. The gifts, food, and Trinity Food Pantry vouchers were all pre-bagged, and volunteers ran the packages out to each car. Lancaster fire and police departments also assisted.
Nicole Gunsher, program coordinator of the Lancaster Youth Bureau, and Danielle Pitirri, LCSW-R, a school social worker who divides her time between Como Park Elementary and the Youth Bureau, led this event.
This year they did everything they could to keep everyone safe, which included changing the distribution to a drive-through, staggering the days, times, and number of volunteers in the building, sanitizing daily, and pre-packaging items for the families to take home, such as wrapping paper and cookie dough.
Families must apply to the Youth Bureau each year and fall within financial guidelines to receive food and gifts for their children. At other times of the year, such as Easter and Thanksgiving, families can also apply for assistance. This Thanksgiving, 87 families received food.
There is no disputing that the Day of Giving program has a tremendous impact on our school community. For the families receiving the donations, it gives them an additional boost at a time when the extras we all look forward to during holiday time might not be within reach. Mrs. Gunsher told me that the families signing up for this program are going through rough times, and this year has brought new people seeking help. She also considers herself very lucky to have worked with this program for 15 years and feels like she was brought to this job to help people in need and loves getting to know the families year after year.
The Lancaster school district also feels lucky to be part of this program. Our collection efforts were a little different this year. Some of our school buildings were able to conduct a food collection before we closed. Other buildings have reached out to our faculty and staff for donations, and they responded generously. A dress down fundraising day generated over $1,000 for gifts. This year everyone has been generous and very creative.
A much-anticipated event for our students is the cookie marathon, where the student council and Leadership in Action students bake and decorate cut-out cookies for the families. It is an hours-long session, as students make two dozen cookies for each family. This year, that had to be changed, but the students had a great idea to provide pre-packaged frozen dough, frosting, and decorations to the families. Working with the district’s food service staff, the dough was properly packaged with directions for use so the families could engage in an at-home activity of baking and decorating cookies in their own kitchen. This was a creative and inventive way to safely provide families with sweet treats.
The evergreen trees for the high school’s holiday decorating contest and holiday music concerts are not in place this year. In past years, those trees were then donated to the Day of Giving families. Instead, Mark Skowron, our high school coordinator of student affairs, reached out to local tree farms to ask for tree donations. There were trees available for families.
One thing that remained the same this year was the flurry of activity in the week leading up to the Day of Giving. This year, students and staff were divided into groups for two-hour sessions at the Lancaster Youth Bureau to organize and wrap gifts. Students “shop” for the families. They receive a slip of paper with information about a family, such as the children’s ages and interests so they can choose an appropriate gift. While most of the gifts will be wrapped, some families will also get wrapping paper and tape for any that were not able to be wrapped.
When I talk to Mrs. Gunsher, Mrs. Pitirri, and the staff and students involved in this program, the words “incredible, overwhelming, generous, and amazing” pepper the conversation. They call it the “best day of the year.” They were worried that the event would not have the same spirit due to the restrictions on personal interaction, but once again, thanks to the dedication of so many in our Lancaster school community, it turned out to be the best day of the year for so many.
Michael J. Vallely, Ph.D.