Students Lend a Helping Hand through Holiday Aid

Written by Carla Steiger, Volunteer

The leaves are finally down and frosty mornings are nipping fingers and noses.  Thanksgiving is imminent and the winter holidays are in sight, which means that it is time for Holiday Aid, a yearly massive food drive in the Dayton area that runs from October through December.  Holiday Aid is run by volunteers with a “dedication to engaging kids at a young age to donate to others and create a lifelong commitment to helping those who need a hand,” according to Lora Davenport of The Foodbank, the partnering organization of Holiday aid.  Volunteers who work with the drive include four community philanthropists, a coordinator at every school, and Tobin Brothers Moving and Storage, which picks up and delivers the barrels.   Over the course of time, the company has picked up over two million pounds of food collected by students.

This year, 74 local public and private schools will participate in the drive, which contributes food to The Foodbank.   The schools are located in Dayton, Centerville, Huber Heights, Kettering, Oakwood, Beavercreek, Xenia, and Trotwood and run the gamut from preschools and elementary schools to high schools.

Non-perishable foods are collected in barrels and a record of the pounds accumulated at each site is recorded.   Two trophies are awarded to the schools.  One is the most pounds collected per student, and the other is awarded for the most pounds collected by the entire school.

Barbara Heck has been the Holiday Aid Secretary since 1989.  She is a retired administrative assistant from the Miller-Valentine Group, which houses the food barrels in its warehouse in West Carrollton.

“When I started with Holiday Aid I did not realize how great the need is for the donated food.  The drive has grown steadily over time.  In 1989, there were 26 schools. Since then the program has grown to 75 to 90 schools,” she said.  Seeing the participation of the students is deeply moving to this long-time volunteer.  “Some of the students with a passion to help others are among those that need help themselves,” she stated.

Gary Smiga, who began as a board member in the 1990s, has served as President of Holiday Aid for the last ten years.  For thirty six years, he worked in Centerville as Teacher, Principal, Central Office Administrator, and finally, as Superintendent. He retired in 2009 and became the Executive Director of the Montgomery County College Promise program in 2010. In 2015 he assumed the title of Executive Director of the Dayton-Montgomery County Scholarship Program as well.

Smiga is proud of Centerville’s 100% participation in Holiday Aid from all twelve schools.  “Serving Holiday Aid was an extension of what I tried to do every day as an educator…making a positive difference in a young person’s life.  Holiday Aid would not be the success that it is today without the enthusiastic support of our school children, teachers and staff.  We are pleased to also partner with The Foodbank to make sure that the food that is collected gets to the dinner table of the neediest,” he added.

Megan, a Student Council Officer from Centerville High School, stated, “We always like to promote a culture of compassion by giving back through the Holiday Aid food drive.”  Jackson, another Student Council Officer, seconded that opinion, saying “Doing the Food Drive around Thanksgiving is a great way to get students involved in the idea of giving and sharing with those in need.”

The students do make a huge contribution.  Last year alone, Holiday Aid collected 66,679 pounds of food, which translated into 55,565 meals.

For participating schools, the race is on to top that total this year and bring home the coveted trophies.