RHS ‘adopts’ needy families

While the holiday season is meant to be a time of joy, for families in need it can be a stressful reminder of the financial comfort they don’t have, especially in a town where there is so much wealth.

Once again this year, the Ridgefield High School community has sought to remove the financial strain of Christmas for some needy families.

“About three years ago, when I first started as the coordinator for the Student Life office, we decided in a community that is blessed to be fairly financially well off that we could capitalize on our community’s resources and give back to those that don’t have too much,” Emily Kilbourn said.

It started off as an attempt to provide a “soup-to-nuts Christmas,” she said. People would donate gifts, food.

“Social Services put together a wish list” for each needy family. “We satisfied everything on those lists, and then some.”

“It was really gratifying to watch kids come in and say, ‘What can I do to help?’

“In the past … we’ve had kids come in to volunteer to gift wrap. You could see them sort of positively peer pressuring each other.”

This year, though, they moved to providing gift cards, rather than gifts.

“As lovely as it is to give these pre-wrapped Christmas presents, we really wanted to empower them to have the dignity to do their own Christmas shopping.”

They raised $6,300 as of last week, and rather than helping four families as they had expected, a fifth was also going to receive support this Christmas.

“It was really amazing to see how generous people were,” Ms. Kilbourn said.

“Our PTSA has been tremendously supportive,” she said, and Cathy Lorusso of the Student Life office coordinated with Social Services.

Ms. Kilbourn suspected there was a link between the Newtown shooting and a last-minute explosion in donations in the fund-raising effort that started in early December and was publicized starting around Thanksgiving.

“By and large the majority of the donations came in on Monday and Tuesday,” she said.

Even though the effort is unrelated to relief effort for the victims and families of victims in Newtown, and RHS students are involved in other efforts to help those people, she thinks the overwhelming tragedy made people feel even more inclined toward helping their fellow human beings.

“It’s a really nice way for our kids to see themselves as members of a larger community and as citizens,” Ms. Kilbourn said. “I certainly see this as an act of citizenship.”

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