By Debra Downey, Senior Editor
Kathryn Newberry, currently head of the arts department at St. Mary Secondary School, remembers participating in the Christmas Adopt-A Family program when she was a student in 1988.
“I remember how each class would collect gifts for needy families in our community and then bring them all up on the altar of Canadian Martyrs Church,” said Newberry.
“The altar would be overflowing with gifts. I knew when I started teaching I wanted to be involved with running the program at the school and have been organizing it since my first year teaching in 1998. ”
St. Mary is the smallest high school in the Hamilton Wentworth District Catholic School Board, but helped 40 families this year. The entire school participates, from teachers and students, to educational assistants, support, secretarial and cafeteria staff, to administrators.
“The staff are really good at motivating the students, getting the message through to them about generosity and goodwill, and digging very deep into their own pockets to fill the gaps,” said Newberry.
In early November Newberry contacted inner city schools, shelters and centres for at-risk youth asking for information about needy families in their care. In return, she received ages, sizes, gender and gift wishes for the families. Some families also needed food or grocery gift cards.
This year Don Hall, Corey Pearce and Newberry dropped off gifts around the city. They said their recipients were floored by the generosity. When the trio brought in gifts to one particular school, the secretary's office was so filled, she couldn't believe they were for only three families. At an abused women's shelter, the co-ordinator couldn’t find a bin big enough to store the gifts.
“It’s not an easy project to do, and every year, I find myself saying, ‘Thats it. That's my last year doing this project.’ But then I see the children and the families, and the looks on their faces, and I change my mind.”