Gift cards are distributed to the immediate community ahead of Christmas
By KRYSTAL NURSE
The Harrison Township School District is working to make sure families have what they need for the holidays by collecting donations from faculty, local businesses and others within the Mullica Hill community.
Harrison Township Elementary nurse Andrea Patterson has been supervising the efforts of the giving trees, along with the rest of the school’s nursing staff, for the past 11 years after former transportation coordinator Jen Lacey retired and the district needed someone to help with it.
“We asked, originally, for a wish list with sizes and things like that,” said Patterson. “The last two years, we didn’t necessarily have a space in the school to use for it because now we have full-day kindergarten. The last two years, we’ve been collecting gift cards to Target and WalMart.”
Those wishing to donate, she said, would purchase gift cards to the two department stores in amounts ranging from $20 to $100, which would get handed to the families who were identified to be in financial need.
Families are chosen through direct, word-of-mouth referrals from teachers and bus drivers, whom she said are the eyes and ears for them, and seldom through the free-reduced lunch program.
“Teachers give us referrals, especially when something changes where so-and-so’s mom is sick, so she’s not working; this one got laid off; this one, the father left and we don’t know where he is — there’s a lot of that I don’t know about until somebody tells me,” said Patterson.
Some families are also known through Mullica Hill’s affordable housing complexes, which Patterson said have grown in the past few years with families who don’t have the financial means during the winter break.
Last year, she said they received $13,000 in gift cards from the trees and were able to give 130 families each $100 gift cards to purchase clothing, toys, shoes or groceries during the holidays.
As of publication, she said they’ve accumulated $4,000 in donations. Patterson added they are working with Harrison Township’s Toys for Tots to provide a mixture of toys and gift cards to families in need.
None of the students, she said, will have knowledge of the cards or toys going directly to them, as she wants them to live their lives normally without the worry.
Outside of the giving tree, the school partners with Your Place at the Table, YPATT, to run food drives in February; collects backpacks in the summer with school supplies; and also works on Mullica Hill Day where kids are given free wristbands to ride rides.
“We have a family right now that’s homeless, and they’re living in a hotel in Camden County,” said Patterson. “So we’ve been doing whatever they need, whether it’s food, mom getting back and forth to work with Wawa gift cards for gas, clothing, just gave one child a coat and whatever to just get them through until they get a place to live.”
Patterson added the trees are an overall community effort with parents, staff and local businesses. She recalled a time last year in which she was worried of being short-handed, and a local Realtor called her to write a $1,000 check to Harrison Elementary.
“We were able to get all of these WalMart gift cards to help out 10 more kids,” said Patterson. “People just do that kind of stuff. That blind trust amazes me.”
The district hopes to get cards from the tree distributed by Dec. 21 before the winter break. Donors can contact Harrison Elementary at (856) 478–2016 and Pleasant Valley School at (856) 223–5120.