By Stephen Wilson

Helping those in need has never been more important, more challenging, or more successful than this year during the pandemic.

Landis Center for Community Engagement organized its annual Holiday Helper gift drive. Rather than a winter scene in Farinon where people select a child or family from a tree full of gift tags as has happened in years past, the event this year moved online.

“In order to make the event accessible to students, staff, alumni, and community members scattered across the globe, we had participants donate by purchasing toys from an Amazon wish list and purchasing e-gift cards,” says Beth Anne Castellano ’22.

Students who led the effort created a website with portals to the Amazon wish list and Walmart gift cards.

“It allowed a wide variety of Lafayette community members to get involved in some way,” says Natalie Schmit ’22. “And we will continue this in future iterations of Holiday Helpers.”

Another donation option on the list included a local restaurant, State Cafe and Grill, so families could enjoy a special meal together.

“We wanted to support local business and achieve our goal of bringing joy to families around the holidays,” says Schmit.

The Lafayette community, in typical fashion, responded with generosity, purchasing 147 items off the Amazon wish list totaling over $2,390, 10 gift cards at State Cafe and Grill, totaling $250, and 31 Walmart gift cards, totaling $900.

But that’s not all.

Lafayette Athletics brought game. 

Two students hold a big check in front of the Landis CenterThe Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) is composed of student-athletes from every sport who are passionate about promoting a positive student-athlete experience, organizing community engagement efforts, and spearheading initiatives within the athletic community.

Last year SAAC selected 15 tags off the tree because the total funds needed to sponsor those donations average out to be a little less than $1 per athlete.

This year they aimed for $1 per student-athlete and athletic staff member and 100% participation from each team.

That seemed to bring out their competitive spirit.

“As student-athletes we are inherently competitive and motivated to use our platform as athletes to make a difference,” says Alix Talkow ’22, member of women’s field hockey and SAAC vice president. “Once I shared this fundraising opportunity with my team, everyone was eager to show their support and help make a difference for families in the Easton community.” 

Many student-athletes gave well over $1, and 12 of the 16 teams reached 100% team participation, including baseball, men’s basketball, men’s lacrosse, men’s soccer, swimming and diving, track and field/cross country, field hockey, women’s lacrosse, softball, women’s soccer, volleyball, and fencing.

In total, SAAC raised $1,400 in donations and presented it as a check to the Holiday Helpers team.

“We were disappointed that our annual shopping trip wasn’t possible this year,” says Carly Riepenhoff, assistant athletic director, “but we still wanted something visual so that all our student-athletes could see the impact their donations will have this holiday season.”

Other student organizations also worked together to raise spirits, including Newman Catholic Association and service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega.

All of the donations went to families in need who are involved in programming at The Neighborhood Center in southside Easton, which helps area residents with food, housing, and bills, and operates Easton Urban Farm.

“Even though a lot of people don’t live near Easton, Lafayette College and the surrounding community is another home for us,” says Harshil Bhavsar ’23. “It truly means the world to give back to those who may not be as fortunate to provide holiday gifts to their families or kids.”

“I think the dedication on behalf of the entire team is ultimately what led to the overall success of the event,” says Gabe Dewey ’22.

The Holiday Helpers event was heartily supported by Landis Center staff members Mary Foulk and Melissa Ash (Mash). 

“Mary and Mash were instrumental,” says Schmit. “Without their guidance and involvement, we would not be able to make projects like these happen.”

Students who organized and ran Holiday Helpers included:
Nat Schmit – director
Alison Maxwell – assistant director
Gabe Dewey – team member
Beth Anne Castellano – team member
Alex Alvarez – team member
Harshil Bhavsar – team member
Jordan Mendez – team member 

Categorized in: Athletics, Campus life, Community, Community-Based Learning and Research, Featured News, Landis Center, News and Features, Students