Miami staff, students become Christmas elves for local foster kids

The top leader of Miami University picked up a second job Tuesday — Christmas elf.

Miami University President Gregory Crawford and his wife, Renate, joined students and other holiday volunteers to wrap Christmas gifts for foster children in Butler and Preble counties.

The Miami Holiday Project has been an annual tradition on the school’s main campus for more than 20 years and has raised more than $250,000 and has helped more than 2,240 children over the years.

Students, staff and faculty showed up at 6 a.m. on a recent Saturday morning at Meijer in Hamilton to shop for the gifts.

The grocery chain donated $4,000 in gift cards, in addition to the more than $16,000 raised by the university. Every penny went to buy toys for local foster children.

“I’m so very proud of our students, staff and faculty members who are all part of this Holiday Project to make a special holiday for many of the kids that are disadvantaged and less fortunate, and foster kids in our community,” Crawford said.

The Miami Holiday Project was started by a university staff member who herself was an orphan, according to Anita Sackenheim, a staff member at Miami University who organizes the Miami Holiday Project.

In its inaugural year, the project's 20 volunteers teamed up with PARACHUTE Butler County CASA to help about 28 foster children, she said. This year, the project's thousands of volunteers helped 162 children.

Planning for the project starts in the summer with donation drives and fundraisers. In December, armed with a wish list from the county, volunteers shop for items the children need and also purchase a special gift they want.

“We make sure each kid gets eight to 10 items” worth at least a total of $100, Sackenheim said.

After the presents are wrapped, “each kid gets a big, red Santa bag,” Sackenheim said that is delivered by a CASA volunteer to the child.

For Miami University sophomore Delayna Shulak, volunteering with Miami Holiday Project combined two things she loves — wrapping presents and serving the community.

“I love wrapping presents. I’ve been wrapping my own presents since I was in the fifth grade. And I just love community service,” she said.

The snow that fell Tuesday just enhanced the holiday spirit of the afternoon, she said.

“I really feel the holiday spirit building up even though it’s in the middle of finals week,” Shulak said. “It’s a nice stress relief. And I get to help kids that are less fortunate too.”

Staff writers Michael D. Clark and Nick Graham contributed to this report.

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