Pope John XXIII Middle School students know the importance of being helpful and kind to others.
All students in fifth, sixth and seventh grades try to act this way every day while working in the classroom, walking the hallways, playing sports, participating in clubs and volunteering in the community.
During the last few weeks of 2019, the students demonstrated this sentiment while bringing in a record 958 Christmas gifts to donate to Project Self-Sufficiency’s sixth annual Stuff the Stocking contest.
As a result, their great generosity helped the school win the contest for the third year in a row and, more importantly, give children of all ages from low-income families in Sussex County and northern Warren County a chance to have a wonderful holiday.
“It felt really good to do this,” Pope John seventh grade student Andrew Wilson said. “We helped a lot of kids who do not have a lot of things in their lives by giving them toys to open on Christmas and they can play with for a long time.”
“It feels great,” Pope John sixth grade student Serena Lorenzo said. “It’s always enjoyable to give back to people, especially to younger kids and kids our age.”
The contest is a friendly competition among area schools that is part of Project Self-Sufficiency’s 2019 Season of Hope Toy Drive. Each school was asked to give new, unwrapped gifts for the contest.
For the third consecutive year, the school received the large engraved gold Stuff the Stocking trophy and a $250 contribution to a student activity fund. The middle school’s Leadership Council accepted the award during a brief ceremony on Thursday from Project Self-Sufficiency’s Lisa Pagnos.
The middle school beat out 36 other area schools for the top prize. Hardyston Middle School placed second in the competition and Green Hills School took third.
While they have had great interest in the contest over the years, students in the middle school were not thinking about winning a shiny gold trophy or earning great recognition. Rather, they were thinking about all the children who would have possibly had no presents to open on Christmas.
“We really like helping people out who do not have as much as we have,” Pope John sixth grade student Patrick Vedral said. “When you know that these gifts are going to give them so much joy, it is worth it.”
When the students started the contest, there was a lot of work that went into getting these gifts organized. But, they rallied as a community, according to Leadership Council moderators Mrs. MaryEllen Russel and Mrs. Kristin VanBenschoten.
“It’s great that our students can help the community, see how much need there is in it, and help make the holidays much sweeter for them,” said VanBenschoten, a sixth- and seventh-grade science teacher.
By the final day of the contest, the students had collected so many toys that they stuffed an entire school bus that Project Self-Sufficiency used to pick up the gifts. Though they did receive great recognition for it, the students felt that they accomplished their mission of giving from the heart.
“When we saw the amount of toys we donated, I thought it was a lot,” Wilson said. “But, when I went to Project Self Sufficiency’s building to see where the toys are stored, it blew my mind. It made me realize how fortunate we are and it was amazing that we could help so many kids and families.”