“Give Love, Give Hope and Give Back.” These three things are what Gardendale High School students do every Christmas season. When they saw their fellow students missing out on the joy of opening presents on Christmas morning, students stepped up to make sure everyone had something under the tree.
For 31 years, students and teachers at Gardendale High School have been making Christmas merry and bright for underprivileged students within their local community. Partnering with teachers, faculty and locals, the annual Christmas Visions project is a fundraiser to provide Christmas presents to Jefferson County students in need.
“The Gardendale teachers saw a need within the community and decided to help in any capacity that they could,” Gardendale High School teacher and Student Council assistant Alex Lewis said.
Founded in 1990, Christmas Visions originally partnered with Toys for Tots, but quickly became a way to help families within the school itself. The first Christmas Visions raised $500 for a local Gardendale family with four students. Now, Christmas Visions raises over $35,000 and gives gifts to over 150 underprivileged Jefferson County students. From bikes to toothbrushes, Gardendale High School works with other schools within Jefferson County to give the best and most needed gifts.
“No need is too small for us to cover,” Lewis said.
Students and teachers plan for the annual project all year. However, the big push starts in October, with the Gardendale High School Student Council leading the way.
“It benefits the underprivileged students we shop for, but it also enables the Student Council shoppers with experience of providing for their peers in need,” Lewis said. “This acts as an eye-opening experience for everyone involved and changes lives on both sides of the program.”
Student Council students organize donations for teachers to take from students during their first period classes leading up to the holiday season. Students from the Gardendale elementary and middle schools also raise money for the project.
The big push for fundraising is the annual shirt and sweatshirt sale. Each year, students design new shirts to sell around the school and community to fundraise.
Gardendale High School students and teachers may lead the charge for Christmas Visions, but it takes the community to make a difference across Jefferson County. Many businesses donate to help local families during the holiday season.
“Christmas Visions is an entire community-wide effort with multiple businesses donating to the cause in some form or fashion,” Lewis said.
18 Jefferson County schools send Gardendale High School their wishlists. Teachers, counselors and other faculty can recommend students to receive gifts from Christmas Visions. The Student Council spends around $150 to $200 on presents for each child, depending on the total donation amount for the year. While students are excited to buy a big and shiny item off a wishlist, they know the needs outweigh the wants. These needs can include toiletries, shoes and clothes.
Right before Christmas, Gardendale High School’s students’ and teachers’ hard work is celebrated at a school assembly. Every year, a group of students dress up in Christmas costumes and sweaters to announce the total amount raised for the year. They are grateful their hard work to fundraise such a large amount enabled them to make a difference for many on Christmas morning.
“This program is important to me because it provides the chance to make a positive impact on other people’s lives,” Lewis said.
Lewis encourages Jefferson County locals to help support Christian Visions. Community members can donate to the project by sending in checks with Gardendale High School with Christmas Visions in the memo line. Follow Gardendale High School’s Student Council’s Instagram @gardendalestuco to learn more about how you can be part of Christmas Visions this year.