CHELMSFORD, Massachusetts (December 20, 2023) – The days and weeks leading up to Christmas are often a joyous time. However, for parents and guardians who may be on a strict budget or living paycheck to paycheck, it can be incredibly stressful.
That’s why Chelmsford’s school communities have programs and resources available to help families in need have a happy holiday season.
“We are aware that there’s a lot of need around the holidays,” said Center Elementary School Counselor Kate Lallas. “There’s always a lot of need. … And we try to fill it.”
Center Elementary School accepts gift cards from stores like Target or Walmart – places where folks can purchase most household essentials, as well as clothing, food and gifts during the holiday season.
Of course, the holidays are not the only time gift cards are needed. Ms. Lallas said there are other instances when families might need additional financial support, including job loss, prolonged or unexpected illness and fire.
Center also hosts a gift room prior to the holidays so students may purchase gifts for loved ones in a safe environment.
“We make it affordable so they can come in with $5 or $10 and still get a couple things,” said Ellen Ellis, co-president of the Center School PTO, for which the event serves as a fundraiser. “They love it.”
Vouchers are made available to students who may not be able to afford to “shop” in the gift room.
Gift cards are also a resource for Harrington Elementary School families. However, because Harrington has a slightly different demographic than the other elementary schools, Counselor Lindsay Rhames said she also created an Amazon wish list this year.
“We reach out to families or ask students who we know may have a need what they want for Christmas,” she said, explaining that the list is shared with other staff members, as well as on her personal social media accounts. “For some, we are trying to get gifts for their siblings, as well.” Items on the list include everything from nail polish, makeup brushes and dolls to board games, Pokemon figures and LEGO sets.
Around 30-35 students have been identified this holiday season, though Ms. Rhames suspects there are others who have not.
“We truly just want to help at Harrington,” she said. “The community is very caring and we just want to make sure the kids have everything they need.”
Like other schools in the district, Ms. Rhames said Harrington sees families in need year-round.
“Last year, we had a family that had an unexpected accident and one parent was in the hospital for an extended period,” she recalled. “We worked with that family to connect them to other resources as well, because we can only do so much. … But we try to relieve as much of their stress as we can.”
Ms. Rhames said Harrington also raises money to provide resources through Coin Wars, an event that pits classrooms against each other to see which one can fill their jar the fastest.
Like Harrington, Byam Elementary School not only collects gift cards from stores like Walmart, Target and Kohl’s, but also has an Amazon wish list set up as an option to buy gifts students would love to receive for the holidays.
The list includes things like crayons, coloring books, board games, LEGO sets, plush toys, dolls, and puzzles, among other items.
South Row Elementary School, McCarthy Middle School, Parker Middle School and Chelmsford High School also have resources available to families, whether it be gift cards, access to food and outdoor attire or other forms of assistance.
About Chelmsford Public Schools
The Chelmsford Public School District provides all students with multiple pathways to optimize their own potential for academic excellence, leadership, and social and emotional wellness. The mission of the Chelmsford Public Schools is to educate, engage, prepare, and empower well-rounded and knowledgeable learners to PERSEVERE through challenges, demonstrate RESPECT and INTEGRITY in their words and actions, are DEDICATED to their community, and display EMPATHY as global citizens while discovering and pursuing their full potential. This PRIDE-driven culture enables all members of the school community to support the growth and development of students. For more information, please visit www.chelmsfordschools.org.