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Portage FFA students gain giving perspective with toy drive

November 27, 2018

Portage High School junior Kyla Hopper still remembers putting food in her front lawn for Santa’s reindeer each Christmas Eve — the food always gone the next day.

Senior Stasya Lurvey laughs about searching through the snow for a cousin’s lost tooth — how she and her cousins were digging, feverishly, because they wanted the Tooth Fairy to visit him on Christmas Day.

Senior Emily McReath won’t ever forget the sleigh bell she received one Christmas morning and how it arrived with a personal note from Santa Claus. The gift made her feel like “the happiest kid on Earth.”

Their Christmastime memories helped them explain why they wanted to see the FFA chapter’s toy drive succeed. The idea behind the drive accounts for more than toys, they said Monday.

“I want these children to feel how I felt,” said McCreath, one of about 70 FFA students collecting toys through Dec. 7, when the toys will be donated to the 28th annual Portage Area Caring Tree.

The Caring Tree each year provides gifts for area families in need. Various banks in Portage on their Christmas trees already have “lots and lots of tags” detailing the desired gifts of children, said organizer Vicki Greenwold. The deadline to bring the gifts to the place where the tags were taken is Dec. 13, but the Caring Tree accepts donations year-round, which can be sent to Portage Area Caring, P.O. Box 384, Portage, WI 53901.

First-year FFA adviser and agriculture teacher Joshua Capodarco and his students decided to help the Caring Tree not long after they helped area farmers clean up their properties following late-summer flooding. They wanted to do more.

“In FFA, we always talk about personal growth and development, and as an adviser, I spend a lot of time with students going to conferences where the goal is becoming a better leader, individually,” Capodarco said. “But I think sometimes the challenge is looking beyond your own personal situation — putting yourself in context with the community around you. You’re not a leader unless you do that, in my opinion.

Capodarco considered himself to be lucky at Christmastime growing up. His gifts weren’t extravagant, he said, “But I always had them.” Providing gifts for area families who need extra help takes some of the worry away and the drive should help participating students too.

“I think this gives the students perspective,” Capodarco said.

Hopper said she still wakes up early for every Christmas and her family members still open gifts according to the wrapping paper, opening together the gifts that share the same design in a family tradition.

“What’s important is we all get to sit down and spend quality time together,” she said.

McCreath and her family always travel to her grandparents’ home for Christmas Eve, opening presents that fit everybody’s personality. They sit around afterward and tell stories, laughing about the things they did in past years.

“More than anything, I hope people (who receive the gifts) get to sit with their families, too,” McCreath said. “And hopefully they won’t need to look at anyone else and feel like they didn’t get as much as others did on Christmas.

“Everybody deserves a nice holiday.”

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