The Collins gather at McWhirter Elementary where it all started. They are, from left, Lisa Collins, Clare Collins, Ify Nnabuife, their mother, Beverly Collins and Manly Collins.
By Monique Sennet
It’s often said that it is better to give than to receive, and that saying hits very close to home for Lisa Collins and her family.
Back in 2001, Lisa was an energetic fifth grader at McWhirter Elementary, and like most kids her age, December was filled with class parties and writing wish lists to Santa. But the reality of her holidays were a far cry from that of her peers.
Growing up as the child of a single mother, Lisa learned at an early age that not even the magic of the holiday season could erase her family’s financial hardships and burdens. Her Christmas morning often consisted of a modest gift exchange of second-hand clothing and hand-me-downs. That is until a very special Secret Santa from McWhirter took Lisa and her siblings under her wing to give them a Christmas they would never forget.
One McWhirter case worker took notice of the Collins family and asked Lisa and her siblings, Beverly, Collins, Manly and Clare, to write a Christmas wish list. And from there, the gifts started pouring in.
“At the time, I don’t think we really took it to heart because in elementary school they have you make Santa lists all the time,” Lisa said. “So I don’t think we really realized that someone was going to try to get these things for us. I thought someone wants us to make a list again because that’s just the activity you do in school.”
Although Lisa is unsure of how exactly the gift-giving effort was coordinated so many years ago, she does remember that this simple act of kindness forever changed the dynamic of Christmas for her family.
“We were just on cloud nine that we got a Christmas at all,” Lisa said. “It wasn’t even so much about the things from our list that we got. It was that we got to open something at all.”
The heartwarming gesture continued every year until the youngest Collins student graduated from high school, and now, in 2018, the family has decided to pay it forward by donating Christmas gifts to other McWhirter students in need.
Spearheaded by Lisa, the family reached out to the district in October to express their interest in helping out in any way that they could.
“I was wondering why we hadn’t become like those people who did that for us because we are all in a position now where we can do it,” Lisa said. “So we decided instead of exchanging these elaborate gifts amongst each other, let’s do for kids that were like us.”
Once they got the green light, it took no time for them to spring into action. They began coordinating a gift collection for 12 students selected by the school, and together bought gifts and gathered donations from community businesses. The gifts collected, both big and small, reminded the Collins family that even the smallest gift can have a lasting impact on the hearts and minds of children.
Although this is the family’s first year to coordinate this gift-giving effort at McWhirter Elementary, they plan to continue each year and want to remind others that this spirit of giving is what truly defines the holiday season.
“You don’t need to have a lot of money to help someone,” Lisa said. “If it wasn’t for someone choosing to not only do for their family, but to also do for others, we wouldn’t have had a Christmas. I think every child should be able to open something from under their Christmas tree, even if it’s one or two gifts. But no child should have nothing to open on Christmas.”