Christmas is less than three weeks away. How's your holiday shopping going?
Students in Rob Kania's senior Physics class at Bowman Academy will be getting their lists and checking them twice before next Thursday when they'll hop into their sleighs and head to the Portage Wal-Mart.
The gifts won't be for themselves, family or friends. They'll be for children none of them even know, less fortunate little ones who might have nothing to unwrap Dec. 25 if it wasn't for the Angel Tree program.
"Going to shop will be the best part of it," said Dana Hudson, Bowman's valedictorian and a volleyball player. "I've done charity work before, but not directly. You're giving to people who can't provide for themselves. I'm not the type of person to ask for money, but this is a good cause. Knowing that you're helping kids, that this may be the only time they receive something for Christmas, it's exciting to be a part of it."
For Kania, the project dates all the way back to his junior year at Penn High School.
"I remember it like it was yesterday," he said. "We went to K-Mart. I got in trouble for playing football in the aisles. Shocker. The school was under construction. We were stuck in the shop class. We had a blast wrapping presents."
When Kania became a teacher, he decided to carry on the tradition, starting it when he was at Portage High School. His first group leader, Samantha (Tampier) Disney, is now his children's godmother.
"There's a stigma with being a teenager that they don't care about anything but themselves," Kania said. "That goes away. I get to see a whole different side of them. I can give them all the physics they want. The project allows me to teach them a little humanity, selflessness. It's in them. You just have to find a way to get it out."
Kania, now an assistant football coach at Chesterton, began teaching at Bowman last year and rekindled the project there with full administrative support.
Over $2,100 was raised in 2012 with the presents going to needy school families. This year, Kania decided to coordinate the endeavor through the Salvation Army of Lake County in Munster. An initial goal of $3,000 was set, but that was blown away by Thursday, with over $4,300 raised as of Friday.
"I didn't think we'd raise this much money as soon as we did," Hudson said when the amount was roughly half of that.
For each $100 generated, an angel is adopted, meaning at least 43 more children will now be smiling with a gift to open come Christmas morning.
"I just think it's an awesome feeling to be able to do this for them, to give them the Christmas they wish for," Olivia Allen said. "Everybody is kind in their heart. Someone's just got to push them."
The angels come with child-specific lists, whether it's a personal item like a toy or a necessity like a winter coat.
"There's so much need right now," Kania said. "One-hundred dollars goes a long way with an infant."
In the past, students wrapped the gifts in Kania's class the following day. This year, they will deliver them after school next Friday to the Salvation Army, which will in turn give them to the families to package.
"My class is the hard class, the challenging one," Kania said. "I see them struggle that way. This lets them unwind, to be like real people. They're the ones who take over the project. It's just a great experience."