Haller is referring to the hundreds of employees who donate money, shop for toys and clothes, wrap more than 1,000 gifts and then stuff hundreds of stockings.
Barbara Booker special education teacher Paula Kasmer and teaching assistant Diedra Dickerson handle the wish lists on the other end. The two work with the teachers and parents to gather every student’s list of wants and needs. The “wants” are the toys. The “needs” are clothes, school supplies, socks, underwear, winter gear and other necessities.
Collecting the information begins at the school’s open house. Kasmer will call parents the following months if she doesn’t get a child’s list. “My biggest fear is I will leave someone out,” Kasmer said.
She is just as diligent with the attendance list, making certain even last-minute transfers each receive a box or stocking of goodies. No one is missed. For some of these children, these gifts are the only ones they will receive, Kasmer explained.
The late afternoon before the big celebration, a Sherwin-Williams semi-truck delivers 15 pallets of presents. Haller said the same driver makes the journey every year from Effingham, Ill. Eighth-graders help unload the more than 350 cardboard boxes filled with gifts. The boxes, each labeled with a sheet that shows the student photo and name, is then delivered to the preK through fifth-grade rooms. There they await the students’ arrival the next day. The sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students receive stockings filled with goodies and Target and McDonald’s gift cards. The preK through third-grade students also receive Sherwin-Williams drawstring bags filled with school supplies and treats.
Colleen Carpenter, Sherwin-Williams vice president of human resources, said the employee-driven gift donations began 12 years ago with Tremont Elementary first-grade students. When Tremont Elementary closed, Sherwin-Williams adopted Barbara Booker, where the Santa project has grown over eight years.
“It’s important for us to support the community where we live and work,” said Haller, who explained that Sherwin-Williams employees can see the school’s West 67th neighborhood from their offices.
Carpenter noted that Sherwin-Williams employees have made a commitment to Barbara Booker. “These are our kids. We want to influence them in a bigger way than just one holiday,” she said, adding that employees volunteer at the school every month.
For Kasmer, satisfaction comes the final day when all the work between the school and Sherwin-Williams culminates. Because many of the younger students don’t go to the malls for pictures with Santa, Kasmer said her favorite part of the day is watching the little ones’ faces light up when Santa arrives. She also takes pleasure in cooking and serving the volunteers lunch that day. “We want them to feel important. It’s our way of giving something back to Sherwin-Williams.”