SKOWHEGAN — Dozens of area high school students descended on the Skowhegan Walmart store Wednesday morning to do a little Christmas shopping.

But they weren’t buying gifts for their own families and friends.

The 60 or so students from Skowhegan, Madison, Carrabec and Lawrence high schools had about $7,000 to spend on Christmas gifts for area children who otherwise might not be having a merry Christmas this year.

It was part of the Santa’s Helper’s Project, sponsored by the Jobs for Maine Graduates. Students bought presents, then wrapped them at the Skowhegan Armory, where the National Guard volunteered to deliver the gifts and to let students use the armory as their wrapping headquarters.

“We raise money to come here and buy Christmas presents for kids in need,” Susannah Curtis, a sophomore at Madison Area Memorial High School said at one of the check out counters.

Sierah Trask, also a Madison sophomore, said they bought mostly winter clothing — hats, gloves and boots and jackets. She said she and Susannah Curtis, along with Stephanie Perkins, a JMG specialist at the Madison school, spent about $180.

“It was challenging trying to stay in our price range, but we did it,” she said.

“Today we are shopping for children in need,” Perkins added. “For the holiday season we got a list from the Town Office, and we had 20 children to shop for, and we’re also shopping for some residents of our local nursing home.”

Student Christian Cabrera was not just along for the ride — he was wearing an ugly sweater for the shopping excursion.

“It’s Santa just breaking down on the dance floor,” he said of his sweater. “We got some girls some clothes and boots and stuff for the wintertime. Then we got some boys some toys and boots and clothing as well — mostly younger kids.”

Lisa Gardner, director of stewardship at Jobs for Maine Graduates, said the holiday season often brings out the best in people — “generosity, good will, and a fresh new outlook on a new year. But it can also highlight the divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots.'”

She said this year is the fourth year in a row when JMG students have joined forces to add a little Christmas cheer to the holiday season for children in need.

JMG is a statewide, private nonprofit group working with students who face barriers to education, according to Gardner. JMG says it provides over 9,000 students a year with the skills and experience they will need to succeed in high school, postsecondary education and careers. Its graduates become engaging members of their communities, productive adults in the workforce and contributors to Maine’s economy, according to the agency.

Breanna Mushero, a Skowhegan Area High School junior, said she had a special reason to help other children at Christmas.

“I think it’s a great experience because when I was little, I didn’t get presents,” she said. “I was in a difficult home. I was adopted, so each year I strive to get a different amount of money for children who don’t get it, because I didn’t get it when I was little.”

Sadie Abbott, also a Skowhegan junior, agreed that the shopping was a special experience.

“I thought this was a really great experience, being able to buy gifts for kids that may not be able to afford it. I really enjoyed this,” she said.

JMG group leader Bethany Shalit said the program started at Carrabec High School in North Anson and has expanded to encompass four high schools.

“Each year it’s gotten bigger and better and helping more students in the community, so it’s been excellent,” Shalit said. “There are 60 kids here today, but between all of the programs, there’s a couple hundred of students altogether that raise money. We’re really trying to encompass all that’s needed in our community, not just toys. We really try to make sure everybody has everything they need during the season.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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