Spreading the Love


Anshul Gowda, Reporter


Local teens helped the city’s underprivileged children at the Homeless Children’s Trust’s 27th annual Christmas party, which was held in the Moose Lodge and Family Center. Children were laughing as the City High cheerleaders raised them over their heads.

“You could clearly see that young lives were being changed,” said Mitchell Wilkes ’20.

The Homeless Children’s Trust is a part of the  Hawkeye Area Community Action Program (HACAP), a non-profit organization that gives housing for over 55 families in the area, along with LiHeap, a heating assistance program, and Head Start, a group that helps over 260 children, and even offers job assistance for those who require it.

The Christmas party is full of food, activities, and is a fun night for underprivileged children.

“I think the Christmas party gives everybody a lot of festivity and fun to the Christmas season,” said Mary Larew, the director of the Christmas party.

Every year the party attracts hundreds of disadvantaged children. Along with these children, teenagers come from the surrounding high schools, drawn by the potential for gaining Silver Cord hours.

“We buddy up one of the teenage volunteers with a little one,” said Larew. “Both the teenager and the little ones have a lot of fun.”

Volunteers are assigned to one child, and act as the child’s caretaker for the rest of the afternoon. The student is responsible for aspects such as making sure that the child feels safe, happy, and enjoys their afternoon. Along with these larger responsibilities come simpler ones as well, such as making sure the child participates in activities, uses the bathroom, and eats lunch.

There was no shortage of guest speakers, performances, and activities. The City High Dance Team did a short routine for those who attended. After they performed they proceeded to have the children run through their routine along with them, and also played games with children. There was live music with guitar and vocals by Kevin Burt, Bob Sulzer, and Randt Burghdoff, as well as special performances from the two bands known as the Skipperlings and the Dream Machine.

This event, along with being a way for students to gain Silver Cord hours, is also way for them to directly impact these children who are living in unfortunate circumstances.

“This big group experience helps them with learning social skills,” said Phyllis Reefs, who runs the temporary tattoo station. “These kids–they don’t really have very much, and they don’t really have many opportunities right now, so this can give them an idea of what they can do.”

“I have been with this program for 27 years, and we have done this every year,” said Larew. “Every year we have many, many children in Iowa City who don’t have the advantage of having the home setting where they will be getting nice things for Christmas. We want them to have a party and have a lot of fun, meet Santa Claus, and just run around and be kids and have a good time.”

Larew believes that this event helps many kids, and she hopes to have an impact on children’s lives which will allow them insight into the possibilities for their futures.

“I know a lot of people who have gone through this program who I run into on the streets that remember having come here 15-20 years ago,” Larew said. “Their family situation has improved and people are happy to have had this kind of help in the background.”

This year the party was conducted differently due to the closure of the Big K-Mart that was located south of State Highway Route 6.

“We used to take the family shopping at the K-Mart while the volunteers would take care of the children, but since it closed, we didn’t have any real options of doing that anymore,” Larew said. “However, what we did was purchase big gifts for each child, and have them already wrapped and ready to go under their family tree. So it is a different format entirely than what we’ve usually done.”

This change of having the parents in the building along with the volunteers was met with no objections. Volunteers were able to see how others might live, and understand the challenges that others face. Student volunteers also ended up walking away with newfound knowledge from the children who they had been responsible for.

“I think I learned to interact with children who are less privileged than me, and mutually learn from each other through shared experiences,” said Andy Chen ’19.

One of the problems that was brought up by Mitchell Wilkes ’20 was that the event was not advertised enough.

“[The people who run it] should consider advertising it more, because we can definitely use more volunteers and kids here,” Wilkes said. “Stuff like social media can definitely help, flyers, and just spreading the word.”

Shuntaro Kawasaki ’20 found out about this program from his science teacher. Many of the volunteers who had shown up had found out from other volunteers or through their teachers.

“If my science teacher didn’t tell me about this I don’t know if I would be here right now,” Kawasaki said. “I know that five of the volunteers here were influenced by my science teacher.”

Volunteers wrapped a total of 130 presents in just seventy minutes in preparation for this year’s event.

“The night before last we wrapped 130 presents. I had so many volunteers we did it in an hour and ten minutes, which was really remarkable,” Larew said.

Next year will be the 28th annual Children’s Trust Christmas party. Again, volunteers will be needed to work in the kitchen, wrap the presents, take care of the children, and help with the cleanup. Students who volunteer are able to gain Silver Cord hours that go toward receiving the award when they graduate.

“Well if you want to come and give to the community, have a good time yourself, and enjoy the entertainment, we would be more than happy to have anybody to volunteer,” said Larew.