Holiday Baskets becoming a December tradition at DC West, and it's all-hands-on-deck

Holiday Baskets becoming a December tradition at DC West, and it's all-hands-on-deck

By Tyler Dahlgren

The faculty at DC West Elementary is flying around the school’s main corridor on a Friday afternoon in December, assembling care packages for students and their families during a planning period they unanimously chose to forgo. 

Those famous Holiday Baskets aren’t going to pack themselves, after all.

“This one needs a box of cereal.”

“That one could use some vegetables.”

“Don’t forget the mashed potatoes over here!”

It was some Charles Dickens-level poetry in merry motion, and there’s a method to the madness, suggests Dr. Dawn Marten, DC West’s Director of Learning.

If you hang around to watch for a mere five minutes or so, you’ll see she’s telling the truth. The staff is the second cog in a well-oiled, three-piece machine that has helped make DC West’s Holiday Baskets a growing and cherished tradition. Students play the integral role of donating and sorting through the food, while local fire departments helped deliver the finished baskets to homes in need across the area.

“When we talk about school as a hub, this is what we mean,” said DC West’s Falcon Family Facilitator Dr. Dee Acklie, who also has her hands in the district’s snack pantry (which averages about 50 to 60 snacks a day) and clothing closet (which provided 85 coats and 80 pairs of boots this winter). “This community takes care of children like no place I’ve ever been, and I’ve been teaching for 40 years.”

Cultivating a real sense of community is one of the district’s pillars, said elementary principal Dr. Jeffrey Kerns. On this Friday afternoon, it’s almost tangible. The teachers don’t have to do this. Their free period is their free period. And yet, here they were.

Every single one.

“We’re just a really tight-knit community,” said fourth-grade teacher Shari Fischer. “Everybody knows everybody, and everybody helps everybody. Every year, I’m more overwhelmed by how much the community helps out.”

Everybody has a hand in helping out, too. Especially during the holidays. These baskets, which adorn nearly every inch of the hallway walls when finished, have become part of DC West’s culture.

“It’s so much fun to step back and see how every single person has their hands in this one way or another,” said Kerns. “What those kindergarteners, preschoolers and fifth-graders are doing is just as important as what the adults are doing. And nobody has to be here. Nobody is required to do this, but in the four years I’ve been here, I couldn’t recall one person who didn’t participate.”

Throughout the week leading up to Friday’s remarkable display of holiday basket assemblage, students did their part, sorting through hundreds of food items that had been donated to the district. It sounds tedious, mundane even, but even the thought of helping out had Mattie Subbert’s class of first-graders downright giddy. 

“My kids loved it, one-hundred percent,” laughed Subbert. “They each got to take two or three items, and then we walked through a line and they dropped their items off in the right section. They were overly-thrilled. Some of them only had two items, and they wished they had more.”

The Douglas County West Chamber of Commerce and COPE are the district’s two biggest partners in the holiday basket project, said Acklie. They also partner with the libraries in Valley and Waterloo. Fire Departments from Valley, Waterloo and Yutan delivered the goods the next morning.

“Something like this really does take the entire community,” said Acklie. “All I have to say is ‘We need,’ and somebody steps up with it. It’s not always the same person, either. It’s multiple people taking care of multiple families.”

DC West has a yearlong backpack program that makes sure students are properly nourished over the weekends when they’re not in class. The holiday break is something almost everybody looks forward to, but two weeks at home can look one way to one student and a completely different, less comforting way to another. That’s why the district is so passionate about meeting needs over break, too, added Acklie.

“It’s very comforting knowing that our families and our kids will be taken care of,” said Kerns.

In addition to the holiday baskets, DC West donors stepped up to provide Christmas for 22 families in need. Middle school students even helped to raise the money and ventured off on a shopping trip once they’d met their mark.

There’s that family feel again, just in time for the holidays.

“The teachers here are very connected with their students,” said Acklie. “When you know your students’ needs are being met, it allows you to teach without having to worry about those things.”