LOGAN – Christmas came early for underprivileged children in Logan Friday evening as bus loads of kids and hundreds of high schools students were dropped off at the north Walmart to enjoy a holiday shopping excursion.
The annual Bear Hugs charity event matches 180 elementary students from the Logan School District with more than 400 high school volunteer mentors.
“It’s one of the most exciting things we do as a school district,” said an emotional Frank Schofield, Logan City School District Superintendent.
The evening began with a light dinner at the Logan High gym. The children were surprised by a visit from Santa, then the Jazz Bear “comes in all his glory to lead the kids out to the busses,” according to event coordinator Tracy Johnson.
Private community donations come in throughout the year to support this event. Johnson explained that students are also involved in fundraising activities. She said the children are selected by their individual school as being in need. Each child can spend $80 on items for Christmas.
“Some kids have no idea the concept of money and so they buy dinner for their family,” said Johnson. “I had the question asked of me today ‘can I buy some frozen chicken nuggets?’ because that’s what they wanted for dinner tonight. That was going to be their meal. The looks on their faces when they go through (the check-out line) and they generally buy things more for their families than they do themselves. It is so fun to watch.”
That indeed was the case for 8-year-old Ayden, who rattled off a number of items he secured for himself and “I got for my family too,” he said, showing off the presents. “I’m going to share.”
When asked to talk about the best part of the night, Ayden was clear – it’s wasn’t about getting material possessions but “shopping with these two” – pointing to his high school mentors.
Senior Emmy Jones was touched by Ayden’s confession. “I just love coming and helping the kids,” she said. “I’ve done it every year that I could. It’s been something I look forward to every year just getting to come and help them and see their faces light up when we tell them what we’re going to do. It’s a great time.”
“It makes an incredible impact as you watch the students come through the cash registers,” said Schofield. “For those teens to watch little kids be so selfless is an amazing eye opener for teenagers who often live in a world that tells them to focus on other things and not necessarily on how we are uplifting and serving others.”
“They put all of their energy into helping these little kids know that somebody cares about them and they’re going to have fun doing this together,” he added.
Schofield said many of their student volunteers benefited from the program when they were in elementary school and just want to return the kindness.
“They’re here participating in this and helping our new crew of elementary students have the same kind of experience,” he said. “They just want to be part of giving that opportunity to these kids and helping them know they are part of a community that cares about them, part of a community that wants to uplift and support them and support their families.”
This is the third year junior Anna Chidester has volunteered at the event. “I love seeing the kids and seeing their faces light up with joy at what we can give them,” she said. “It’s an amazing opportunity and it’s really just about the kids.”