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Sparta Families Bring Christmas to Children in Sparta

Jennifer Dericks

Sunday, December 15, 2013 • 4:55pm

SPARTA, NJ - It is Santa's workshop right here in Sparta, complete with busy elves. Saturday and Sunday, when many of their classmates were out sledding, several Sparta students from various grades met in the basement of Peggy and Tim Fischer's home to sort and organize piles of gifts.

Nearly five years ago, Fischer joined Leslie Plifko, Mary Bernet and Aileen Parson supporting Christmas in the City through Till's Kids in Newark. They have collected games, toys, books and hats and gloves for the children of three schools in Newark.  All three schools, the Cleveland Avenue, South 17th Street and Louise A. Spencer schools, are the educational home to students from pre-school through Grade 8.  As an indication of the need in these schools, every student schools receives free or reduced lunch.

The donations come from family friends who learn of the efforts by word of mouth, facebook and letters.  "Stuff just shows up," Fischer said. "I'll come home and find donations waiting, piled up outside the door. Once we were short two watches and then someone came by asking if we had use for watches. That just shows there is a higher power at work here."

The sentiment of selfless service is expressed over and over by the students involved.  Senior Cole Zugelder has written his college application essay on the topic of how the experience of this project has "changed him as a person."  When asked about impressions that stand out he explains that the whole day is a great experience,  "seeing the biggest smiles when they get their gifts."  The biggest surprise was "when one of the children held up his gloves and hat and asked, 'what are these?'  He didn't even know how to put them on.    Overall, it is an awesome day."

Two Sparta High School students, Emily Mead and Alexi Leland formed a new club, Studets Taking Action in the Community (STAC).  Their first activity was an intermural powder puff football game  to benefit this Christmas in the City project.  They raised $500 which went towards the purchase of hats and gloves for the children at the schools in Newark.

When Teddy Fischer was in fifth grade he delivered gifts to a fifth grade class.  When handing a ball to one of the boys, thestudent held onto his hand and explained the value of the gift.  Now he could play on the football team because the coach told him he had to bring a ball to play.  That had quite an impact on the young Fischer.

At the Fischers gifts are stacked in piles all over the room; candyland board games, books, matchbox cars, stuffed animals, hats and gloves.  There are also over one hundred footballs and basketballs donated by the Sparta HIgh School football team.  Each year the team members bring a new ball to the football banquet.  This year was the largest donation ever.

It is quite a feat of organization.  Working from class lists, brown bags are filled with several age and gender appropriate gifts and books.  Everyone also gets gloves and a hat.  The  brown shopping bags are tied with a bow and then packed into larger plastic bags with tags indicating the designated  classroom and school.  Fischer coordinates  the students.  A steady stream of volunteers arrived through the snow gladly pitching in.  The packing will continue "until it's done," explains Fischer.

On Monday a box truck will arrive to pick up all of the large tagged plastic bags to bring them to the schools in Newark.  Tuesday approximately 40 students from Sparta school, other adults,  teachers and Sparta Middle School Principal Doug Layman,  will travel to the three schools and distribute the gifts.  Many parents accompany their children as well,  making it a real family experience.

Each year they bring cupcakes to be sure it is truly a party day for the children in Newark.  One thousand cupcakes are provided by the Sussex County Vo-tech for a reasonable price.

Newark children will also be receiving rainbow loom bracelets with affirmative messages.  The  students at Alpine and Helen Morgan elementary and Sparta Middle Schools made the bracelets and collected gifts.  Their efforts were  coordinated by Denise Garagliano, Margaret Trum and Lisa Kaplan.  Karin Rennie put together the concept of including an affirmation for each of the students.  As they receive their bracelet, they say the affirmation out loud.  This makes quite an impact on the children.  Fischer relates a story about a child walking alone in the hall and Plifko asked if he was having a good day and what was his favorite part of the day.  The student answered by raising his arm to show his bracelet. 

Delany Zugelder, eleven years-old, is helping for the third year.  This year she made 100 bracelets herself.  "It took about ten days," she explains.  "I look forward to this every year. "  She also repeats what other basement 'evles' have said, "it makes me see how lucky I am to have everything."

The program is coordinated in Newark through Tilly's Kids, Pastor Tilly Giresi as an outreach of the House of Mary Mission.  Fischer relates comments made by adults in the Newark school.  "These students from Sparta really do Sparta proud.  They are really nice kids."  Further, Fischer explains that, for her "the best part is to watch our kids and see that they really get it."

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