Sandy Creek teacher and Beta Club sponsor Jennifer Sullivan presents a check to local Toys for Tots coordinator Jeff White for her students’ donations.

by Jaylon Thompson

Fayette County high school students are lending a helping hand to those in need during the holiday season. In a partnership with Toys for Tots, students have united to raise money and gifts for children of all ages. Since the partnership started in 2010, students have raised nearly $60,000 in donations.

Four high schools, Whitewater, Sandy Creek, McIntosh, and Starr’s Mill, participated this year. Each school had clubs that donated a sizable portion to the local Toys for Tots drive.

“It is a great feeling to do it every year,” said Sandy Creek High School teacher and Beta Club sponsor Jennifer Sullivan.

The official start of the 2017 donation drive began at the McIntosh-Starr’s Mill football game. Currently, Whitewater has raised $3,000 and McIntosh has raised $2,000. Sandy Creek ($900) and Starr’s Mill have each made great donations.

At Sandy Creek, Sullivan has seen many students donate for the cause. Students can purchase a Toys for Tots paper train for a dollar apiece. Together, the funds are used to buy gifts such as basketballs, nail sets, and other childrens’ novelties for the holidays.

“It is an easy thing for the kids to do as it is a dollar to contribute,” Sullivan said. “You can contribute by buying the train and it goes up on the wall.”

The paper trains are a big hit for the students. Sullivan said that the trains have covered her classroom wall and others around the school. Some students have worked with family and friends to contribute sizeable donations. Others teamed up with classmates using spare change to purchase a train. Sullivan dubbed the efforts “Change for Trains.”

“Everything adds up, and we had days where kids would team up to make another train,” Sullivan said. “Someone would have 50 cents and team with another classmate to donate for another train link. That was really nice to see their willingness to help.”

Sullivan’s Sandy Creek students are major contributors to the local Toys for Tots drive.

Fayette’s local Toys for Tots coordinator Jeff White is appreciative of the support from the students. He said that all the goals have been met for the families in need.

“We had enough to do everything we needed to do,” White said.

White said the organization looks to collect around $30,000 for this holiday season alone. He is thankful for the local businesses like Trailers for Less, U-Haul, Penske Rental Truck, Self-Storage, and the ATP Flight School among others for their support. These companies helped supply storage space and it helped the organization reach peak success.

“The people of Fayette County has been amazingly gracious,” White said. “They give and we have never come up short. In all the years we have done this, we have always had enough. The number of kids go up every year and the businesses step up. We couldn’t do it without those people doing what they do.”

White hopes that the program continues to prosper. He is thankful for Sullivan’s help to get the students involved. It helped him get the word around to other schools and to have students volunteer for a good cause.

“She is my hero in this Toys for Tots collection,” White said. “She has such a heart for it and is an all-star. She gets her kids involved and cares for others.”

Sullivan is thankful for the kind words, but she said the real joy is seeing her students giving back to the community.

“The biggest takeaway is seeing the giving nature of students and them stepping up as leaders,” Sullivan said. “Their giving nature always warms my heart.”