Hall-Dale Middle School and High School students in the Jobs for Maine Graduates program wrap toys that were included in baskets given to 16 families in the school district. Photo courtesy of Jen Paisley

HALLOWELL — In a year where new toys for the holiday season may not be possible for every family, students from Hall-Dale Middle School and High School aimed to change that for some.

Tara Kierstead, Hall-Dale social worker, and Jarod Richmond, director of the Jobs for Maine Graduates program, worked with students to compile food and toy baskets, the latter of which also included winter necessities.

At Thanksgiving, Hall-Dale students put together food baskets for families. At that time, Kierstead said, Temple Beth El in Augusta donated money for 10 baskets for families for the winter holiday break. In a normal year, the baskets would be made with donations from staff and community members.

“We were thankful with the help that we received from the Thanksgiving baskets, and grateful that we were able to find funding for the holiday ones,” Kierstead said. “Maybe going to a food pantry is scary with rising COVID-19 cases.

“There are a lot of barriers now to get to pantries and get food,” she added. “The fact that we are able to do this, we are grateful.”

Ten families will receive a winter food basket filled with a fresh ham and some canned goods.

Tara Kierstead delivers packages of food and holiday presents Monday to the Farmingdale homes of students attending Hall-Dale Middle School and High School. Kierstead is the school’s counselor. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Kierstead and other school staff members shopped for food for the baskets, which went out to the families on Monday. The school also worked with the Good Shepherd Food Bank, where some food was able to be purchased at a discounted price.

Each basket has an estimated $50 worth of food, without discounted prices, that should provide families with enough to last until Jan. 4, when students are scheduled to return to school.

Kierstead said that if the schools switch to remote learning at that time, the district would return to food delivery for students as it did in March when the coronavirus pandemic forced buildings to close.

Without room for travel this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, it may make it increasingly difficult for families to get the food and comfort they would normally receive.

“We have to stick together,” Kierstead said. “We are supporting each other and making sure everyone’s spirits are brighter and provide the comfort during the holidays.”

In addition to helping with food baskets, Hall-Dale Middle School and High School staff purchased toys and clothes for students that need them.

Wrapped toys and winter necessities wait to be delivered to families in the Hall-Dale Middle School and High School community. Photo courtesy of Jen Paisley

Regional School Unit 2 serves five communities, including Hallowell, Farmingdale and Dresden — all of which are part of the Hall-Dale community — and Monmouth and Richmond. Monmouth has its own longtime program, the Cottrell/Taylor Christmas Baskets, that offers gifts and a food basket for families in need. Those items were distributed Tuesday by volunteers.

Hall-Dale staff compiled a list of families that could use support and inquired about specific needs. Educators also asked the families what toys the kids would like for the holiday.

“It’s important to us that people have their needs met,” Kierstead said.

She noted the school staff stays in tune with student needs. One year, Kierstead said, a student needed basketball shorts for practice and a teacher brought some in within a couple of days. Other examples, she said, were staff members who purchased mittens and coats for students who needed them.

Granite Hill Church helped the Hall-Dale community with toy donations. One person donated 10 bikes to students, requesting that Kierstead ask who needed one.

Kierstead and Richmond finished the wrapping Monday before making their deliveries. Some families are receiving both toys and food.

“For some families, toys are not a need right now,” Kierstead said, “but if we are able to help or provide some joy, we want to.”

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