‘Stocking Stuffers’ spread holiday cheer

They don’t look like elves, but a quartet of International Baccalaureate students from Land O’ Lakes High School has set off on a mission to make the holidays merrier for preschoolers in foster care.

The IB students — Deah Bhojani, Geanna Alamares, Ariana Rao and Angelina Rodriguez — dreamed up the idea for an operation they’ve dubbed “Stocking Stuffers.”

From left, Angelina Rodriguez, Deah Bhojani, Geanna Alamares and Ariana Rao are banding together on a project aimed at providing at least 50 stuffed Christmas stockings for children in foster care.
(B.C. Manion)

It’s a simple concept, but the teenagers hope it will have a profound impact on the children receiving the holiday stockings.

And, they’re asking for the community’s help.

To get things started, the young women set out collection boxes on Nov. 1 at the clubhouse at Wilderness Lake Preserve, Lake Bernadette and Meadow Pointe. They also placed two boxes at Land O’ Lakes High School.

Those wanting to help can either donate a stocking that’s already been stuffed, or can contribute items to help stuff a stocking.

Since the stockings will be given to preschoolers, the gift items should target that age group. Small purses, little cars, coloring books, art supplies, costume jewelry, dolls, stuffed animals and puzzles are the kinds of items they’re seeking to collect.

The idea is for the item to be small enough to fit in a stocking, but not small enough to pose any kind of hazard to a young child.

The organizers also are asking contributors to refrain from donating any type of food.

The collection boxes will remain up through Dec. 11.

The young women also are appealing to large businesses that may buy in bulk to donate some items for the cause.

Bhojani said she came up with the idea because her dad owns a preschool, and some of the children he serves come from foster families.

She also volunteered to feed the homeless and saw firsthand how those children struggle.

She saw a young boy who was freezing cold.

“He was wearing shorts and a jacket that was way too small for him,” she said.

“I’ve just been very fortunate. I’ve never really had to go through the holidays without family and support,” she said. “So, I just wanted to do something for kids who might not be as lucky as I am during this time of the year.”

She also noted that many people give to large charities that help people in far-away places, but people sometimes fail to notice the need for help right here.

Rodriguez said she wants to help share Christmas joy.

“To me, Christmas is a season of giving, and love and charity. I love Christmas. I’ve always loved it,” she said.

Alamares said she wanted to get involved because she understands there are people who are much less fortunate, including some of her own relatives who live in the Philippines.

She also has seen that need locally.

When she did some volunteer work at Tampa General Hospital on the children’s floor, she met children who live in difficult conditions.

“It was eye-opening for me,” she said.

Rao said the idea appealed to her because she could see that it’s the kind of project where “small gestures can have a broad effect.”

The IB students hope to collect at least 50 stockings to distribute to foster children through the Early Learning Coalition of Pasco County.

That’s one goal they hope to exceed.

Want to help?
If you would like to help make the holidays merrier for some foster children, contact Angelina Rodriguez at moc.l1539882668iamg@1539882668esorl1539882668egnar1539882668d1539882668.

Published November 15, 2017

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