It was while she was taking a shower, Hillsboro teacher Mindy Lawson said, that it dawned on her that it would be nice to get Hillsboro students involved with helping students in the Houston, Texas area that was devastated in late August by Hurricane Harvey.
What quickly developed was the “Hillsboro to Houston Holiday Gift Drive,” a program that intends to deliver a caravan of Christmas gifts to students at Evan E. Worthing High School in Houston right around Christmas. The program’s goal is to assure that every student at Worthing High receives at least one Christmas gift this year.
“It just popped into my head because people don’t typically think of teenagers when they think of Christmas toy drives and things like that,” said Lawson, the parent of a 15-year-old who also teaches language, literature, creative writing and English at Hillsboro High School. “Sometimes teenagers are overlooked at Christmas, but they’re still kids underneath it all.”
Lawson said there was an immediate response when she started telling people about her idea. Now the program is being sponsored by Hillsboro High School International Thespian Troupe 5928 and supported by the National Honor Society, student government, band color guard, marching band and other student representatives. Lawson said churches and other community organizations are getting involved.
Once the original plan was hatched, Lawson said the next step was to figure out what to buy, who to buy for, and where to send the gifts.
She said that because the concept of the drive was born out of empathy for victims of Hurricane Harvey, she decided to contact the Houston Independent School District to find out if there were any schools in dire need of assistance. She was immediately paired with Worthing High School and interim principal Laquetta Kennedy.
According to Lawson, Worthing High is located in one of the poorest sectors of Houston, and has an enrollment of about 815 students with 99 percent being minorities and 95 percent from economically disadvantaged families.
“The day I called, in mid-September, it was their first day back in school. They had been out that long because they didn’t have a building,” Lawson said. “Most of the kids are disadvantaged to begin with, and most of them had lost their houses and homes through the flood.”
The response so far from local businesses, teachers, student organizations, churches, business owners and families has been incredible, Lawson said.
“People were volunteering to offer everything from services such as wrapping presents to delivery vehicles from self-owned trucking companies. It was all very overwhelming,” she said in a follow-up email. “I thought maybe it was going to be too much to handle, but I couldn’t possibly crush the spirit of these kids. We picture driving in a huge motorcade to Houston over Christmas break to deliver these presents in person.”
On Tuesday, all Hillsboro students received flyers about “Hillsboro to Houston” in their homerooms, and on Wednesday some of those students went door-to-door at local businesses asking for help.
“So now that we are going, here we go,” Lawson said. “We have already started collecting gifts from individuals on a small scale, but we are ready to include the entire city of Hillsboro. Small and large businesses, family-owned and franchised, churches, community organizations, and private citizens are all being encouraged to help our young adults at Hillsboro High School make a difference in the lives of young adults over 1,000 miles away.”
Lawson added, “A gift list was compiled by the leadership team at Worthing High School, but the students here at Hillsboro want to go even bigger by adding more. They are truly learning a new definition of the Christmas spirit and this is an opportunity for them to understand the world from a whole new perspective by seeing the priorities of those who have lost everything in the flood.”
The list compiled by Kennedy and her leadership team at Worthing includes: for females, nail polish, makeup, handbags, hair accessories, scarves, belts, jewelry, perfume, gifts cards, headphones and gloves; for males, combs and brushes, body spray/cologne, gift cards, headphones, wallets, winter hats, gloves and belts.
But the Hillsboro students have come up with a more extensive list. It includes watches, alarm clocks, clock radios, portable MP3 players, tote bags, purses, sports bags, wallets, curling irons, hot rollers, makeup and nail polish sets, toiletry gift baskets, boxed jewelry, jewelry boxes, board games, electronic games with batteries, jigsaw puzzles, footballs, basketballs, Bibles, books, diaries, journals, affordable/refurbished/up-to-date electronics (chargers included) and iTunes cards.
Cash and financial donations will be accepted and all donations will go directly to “Hillsboro to Houston.” No funds are being raised for clubs, organizations, or activities at the school, Lawson said.
Cash and gifts will be held in a bank/secure location until they are ready for shipment to Houston.
Other donations could include wrapping paper, tape, gift tags and manpower when the time comes.
Donations can be dropped off at the main office at Hillsboro High School, 550 U.S. Route 62, from now until Dec. 8.
Lawson said that while those in the caravan will have to drive themselves, several people have already expressed a desire to deliver the gifts in person.
“I think it will be around Dec. 27 because the (Worthing) kids are actually going to school right up until Christmas because they missed so much time,” Lawson said. “And the kids here didn’t want to miss their Christmas at home.”
The reason for “Hillsboro to Houston,” Lawson said, is “because every teenager deserves a Christmas present on Christmas, and these children’s lives were torn apart by the devastation of the Hurricane Harvey flood. Let’s unburden their parents by helping bring cheer this holiday season. Our children want to make a difference, so let’s help them.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.