By JEN CARDINES
Southington High School (SHS) juniors Gabriella Bassi-Belanger and Nikki Belales showed their true holiday spirit this year by organizing a cultural project and toy drive.
A large poster wall was placed in the cafeteria that educates students and staff about what different cultures celebrate at SHS and across the world this time of year. The wall includes Hanukkah, Kwanza, and Christmas, with dates and information about each holiday.
While the idea was spearheaded by Bassi-Belanger, Belales was right by her side to help construct the board and collect materials. A toy drive was open throughout December for anyone in the building to donate and everything went directly to Southington Community Services (SCS).
“This is the second year that they’ve approached me to do some type of cultural holiday theme at Southington High School,” said principal Brian Stranieri. “Last year it started with the Thanksgiving food drive, and then I challenged them to take it a little further for the holidays.”
Bassi-Belanger said that this year she wanted the focus to be on the Southington community.
“Last year, we collected maybe 100 coloring books and materials for the Children’s Hospital, but this year, we wanted to go a little bit more local,” she said.
The girls contacted Southington Youth Services counselor Sue Williams when they started the project, hoping she could help them get in touch with the right contacts.
“I didn’t have to do much,” Williams said. “The girls organized everything, and I just got them in touch with SCS.”
Stranieri sent an email to all faculty members, encouraging them to donate, and the toy drive was mentioned during the morning announcements in the days leading up to the holiday break. Inside the school’s main office, collection boxes accumulated coloring books, crayons, games and toys to send to families in need.
When the boxes were donated on Friday, Dec. 22, the items counted were double what the girls expected.
Williams called the drive a big success. “Gabriella is a student that is so giving, and is just always thinking about other people, whether it’s patients or our community,” she said about the efforts.
“I’m so proud of what they’re doing,” Stranieri said. “We have great young people in this building, and this is a fine example of what our young adults can do if they put their mind to it. They understand that it’s better to give than to receive.”
Even with the holiday season nearly complete, Southington Community Services is still accepting donations. Contact them at (860) 628-3761 or drop in at 91 Norton St. in Plantsville.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Jen Cardines, email her at JCardines@SouthingtonObserver.com.