Years ago, Dee Grossmann was a single mom struggling to care for her two young boys. One day, a volunteer knocked on her door with food and gifts for the children. She was grateful that there were people watching over her family and she made a vow to her herself that day.
“I promised myself and I promised God that if I could, one day I would give back,” Grossmann said.
And she has – over and over again. A retired school secretary, Grossmann is coordinator of the Christmas Sharing Program at . She spearheads efforts to collect canned goods, toiletries, food, clothes and gifts for Lake Fenton families. Over the years, Grossmann has developed a network of friends, family, Lake Fenton staff and students, civic organizations and businesses who lend support by donating various items to the families in the program.
She collects information about sizes and gift requests from families and creates a list that identifies each family by a number, not their names. Grossmann said no one but her knows who receives items through program as she makes all the contacts and distributes the items herself. A list in the teacher’s lounge, for example, may state: “Family 3: Boy, 10, needs x size jeans and a board game.”
Staff members – and sometimes entire classrooms – sign up to fulfill the individual needs. Civic organizations and business owners often call her and ask to adopt a family or donate specific items as well. Through this system, many years families in need receive jeans, undergarments and shoes for children, toys, a ham or turkey, bread, potatoes, cereal, peanut butter, jelly, milk, eggs, butter and more, including some items that can’t be purchased with food assistance programs, like toothbrushes and toothpaste, toilet paper and shampoo.
“It’s really amazing,” said Grossmann.
Canned food collection drive
Lake Fenton students enjoy helping out. The canned food collection drive at has produced some overwhelming results. One classroom box filled up with 108 canned goods by the end of the first morning, said clerk Reshanda Terry.
“Our kids here have a big heart,” she said.
The class that collects the most non-perishable food items receives a pizza party. Students also purchase candy canes for 50 cents to raise funds that are used to purchase gifts and gift cards for families.
Giving Tree program
At Lake Fenton Middle School, the annual Giving Tree program teaches students about helping others while providing a fun challenge. The three grade levels work toward a common fundraising goal in hopes of capturing bragging rights and getting Principal Dan Ferguson, and sometimes other staff members as well, to engage in a crazy stunt. Last year many teachers dyed their hair and some men even shaved their heads, after students achieved their fundraising goal. Another year, Ferguson dressed in a chicken outfit and climbed on the school roof to reward students for their efforts. He has also danced in a grass hula skirt.
“Kids always go above and beyond in meeting the challenge,” said behavior specialist Opal Begley, who organizes the Giving Tree with counselor Jennifer Tews. “They realize they are helping out their classmates.”
To raise funds for holiday gifts and food baskets, the Builders Club, a student group, creates paper ornaments that are sold for $1. Students also participate in a canned food drive. Student Council and National Junior Honor Society members sort and organize the food baskets under the supervision of organizers.
The food baskets are stuffed with items for a holiday meal as well as pantry staples that will help stock cupboards beyond the season, like cereal and 10-pound bags of potatoes, said Begley.
“It’s heartwarming,” she said about watching students participate in the Giving Tree activity.
West Shore Elementary School students are encouraged to place non-perishable food items under the huge Frosty the Snowman set up in the school. Grossmann picks up the items for distribution.
There’s plenty of giving opportunities in the Fenton school district as well.
Third grade teacher Michele Ostrowski combines academic skills with life lessons during the holidays. Her students at State Road Elementary School operate a “Snack Shack” to raise money to buy Christmas presents for families they have adopted for the season.
Students explore basic economic concepts by producing goods like cookies and crafts, creating marketing slogans and then selling the products at lunchtime for 25 cents to a dollar. That small change adds up quickly, said Ostrowski.
Funds benefit local students and their families, but recipients remain anonymous to protect their privacy. Ostrowski said her students are very receptive to the message of giving to those in need.
Students at like other schools, pair up with the Fenton Rotary Club and Kiwanis Club of Fenton to help out those in need, said counselor Michelle Pietraszkiewicz.
The Fenton High School Key Club helps the Kiwanis Club by spearheading a food collection at all of the school buildings. Then students and Kiwanis members join together to sort and pack about 100 Christmas food baskets for those who need it in the Fenton area. They will also service about 50 families in the Lake Fenton area, said Kiwanis member Donna Peters.
Working with Pietraszkiewicz, the Fenton Rotary Club’s Angel Tree program provides and distributes clothing and gifts to families in need in the schools.
Stuff a truck
Members of the Fenton Crush youth baseball team will collecting donations of non-perishable food, household items, personal items, new or gently used clothing and everyday necessities. Everything collected will be donated to Carriage Town Ministries in Flint. The event will take place from 10 to 3 p.m. at on Silver Parkway.
“When the players brought the idea to the coaching staff, we were all on board – within days we had the event planned” said coach Mike Gross. “It warms my heart to know that these boys aren’t only good ball players but good kids."