20 Years of Service: La Salle Holds Annual Christmas Drive for Families in Need


Haley Golden

“It’s the simplest act of service that people can do that does bring joy, and it does make a difference,” religious studies teacher and Director of Service Ms. Sarah Maher said.

La Salle held its 20th annual Christmas gift drive this month for the families of Lot Whitcomb Elementary School, continuing its tradition of partnership and relationship-building with the school.

Organized by the Director of Service Ms. Sarah Maher, students in La Salle’s homeroom classes took on 37 families this year, gathering gifts for both students and parents of the neighboring school. 

With the help of Lot Whitcomb’s counselors gathering information from the families, including students’ ages, clothing sizes, and likes and dislikes, La Salle students are able to purchase gifts, which usually fall around a $25 range, specific to the wants and needs of the families.

“We really try to make it as personal as possible,” Ms. Maher said. “All of the homeroom families know the kids by name. They know what their favorite colors are. I make sure we get the right ethnicities of dolls.”

Once all gifts are collected, Ms. Maher contacts the families, telling them that their gifts are ready and asking how they would like to receive them. In an effort to accommodate each family’s circumstances and needs, Ms. Maher offers them three options: picking the gifts up at La Salle, receiving the gifts at Lot Whitcomb, or having them delivered directly to their homes — the final option being one that Ms. Maher said many adult members of the La Salle community will often aid in.

“A lot of our faculty and staff love to help out, and I’ll just say, ‘Hey, I have a delivery tonight at seven o’clock, who’s gonna be around?’” Ms. Maher said. “And people will just drive it over to their apartment or their house and deliver it that way.”

And, because many of the gifts requested for the drive are toys for elementary-age children, Ms. Maher takes that as an opportunity to enhance the experience of receiving those gifts, transporting the wrapped toys in large black bags because “they might be from Santa,” she said. “So to be able to give that gift is pretty awesome.”

While the drive existed previously, it was the help of the former Director of Community — now current Spanish teacher — Ms. Lisa Moran, and the former La Salle campus ministry group that helped strengthen the relationship between the school and Lot Whitcomb and morph the Christmas Drive into its current state. 

When the two groups needed a place to volunteer and serve, Ms. Moran spoke with a counselor there and coordinated the more personalized Christmas Drive seen today. They utilized the new — at the time — Lasallian Ministry class, which offered students in the class opportunities to volunteer at the adjacent school and mentor students there, which began a lasting relationship between the schools.

“There was a need at the time in our immediate community,” Ms. Moran said. “And it was important to us that we look in our own backyard to who we can help.”

And, while La Salle had volunteered and done drives previously through St. Vincent de Paul, the school switched over to directly helping the families of Lot Whitcomb because “we wanted something that students could connect more to,” Ms. Moran said.

Because Lasallian Ministry students had already created relationships with many students at Lot Whitcomb through the mentoring program, helping those same families of those students made the drive feel like it created “a real, almost family, connection,” Ms. Moran said, between La Salle and Lot Whitcomb.

However, Ms. Maher acknowledged that it isn’t just La Salle who provides support to the Lot Whitcomb community, as she said that they have helped La Salle in more ways than one since the initial bond was made. As one example, Ms. Maher said that, in working closely and forming connections with the families of the Lot Whitcomb community, La Salle has come away with a different and deeper understanding of equity and inclusion as a result. 

“I’m happy to keep doing this, keep having the personal conversations, keep having our students pray for the families by name so that there’s more of a connection, instead of kind of like an ‘us and them’ kind of idea,” Ms. Maher said.

And, from speaking with families while volunteering for the drive, Ms. Maher said they shared with her their stories and struggles from during the pandemic. She has been grateful to them for sharing this with her, as it has made her want to advocate for those families and “for more change of what’s been happening right here in our neighborhood,” she said.

The Lasallian Ministry class has continued to visit the school once a week to mentor students, which senior and Christmas Drive volunteer Kamryn Houghton said is another way that Lot Whitcomb has been a source of service to the La Salle community because “[the mentors] take a lot away from that,” she said.

Because of the mutual support Houghton sees between the two school communities, she also hopes that the Christmas Drive is not seen as a one-sided, savior-esque gesture coming from La Salle because of the continuous back-and-forth acts of service and support from both schools to one another.

“I think that it’s important to not go into this thinking we’re going in saving their Christmas,” Houghton said. “[We’re] having more of a collaboration.”

For Ms. Maher, the drive acts as both a way to help out a neighboring school and nurture a long-standing relationship, while also an uncomplicated yet meaningful way for individual students at La Salle to practice giving.

“It also just means so much to me that every single student picks out a present,” Ms. Maher said. “For them to be able to go and do something very simple as go shopping, pick something out, wrap it and bring it back, knowing that will bring joy to someone, is a very simple thing that every kid can do.”