Every holiday season, Leesville’s Student Services department coordinates the Pride Pole, a way for Leesville community members to give back. Surrounding a red-and white-striped pole in the main office are lions; each lion represents the family of a Leesville student in need. Anyone can “adopt” a family by signing up in the main office.
The families that the lions represent face housing instability and financial need, and they remain anonymous throughout the process. When volunteers “adopt” families, they only know the family’s wants and needs, not the names of the family members. The school wants to be respectful of the hardships these families experience.
In terms of donations, most families need items that most Leesville students take for granted: clothes. However, besides the necessities, the Student Services department tries to ensure that families receive a few extra-special items.
“The needs are basically all clothes, and a lot of the time it’s warm clothes…things like jackets, but also things like pants, shirts, socks, underwear,” said Jessica Huber, Student Assistance Program counselor and coordinator of the Pride Pole. “We also put some wants on there because it’s nice to have something fun…to open up.”
After Student Services has received all the donations and wrapped them, Huber contacts the families, and they come to collect the gifts. Sometimes, the families keep their participation in the Pride Pole secret from their children, hoping that the presents will surprise them.
Unfortunately, not all families have the means to travel to the school to pick up the gifts. In these cases, Huber herself will play “Santa Claus” and deliver them to the families.
Because she distributes the gifts each year, Huber witnesses the families’ joyful reactions.
“I oftentimes get a lot of hugs and also a lot of tears just for being so thankful and grateful and also just blown away that people can be so generous and giving.…[The families] don’t know who adopts them, but they say, ‘Please, from the bottom of our hearts, tell them how thankful that we are and how appreciative we are that they would take the time to do this for us,’” Huber said. “It is actually quite a powerful, amazing experience to see that straight from their faces.”
Along with individuals, many clubs and groups at Leesville contribute to the Pride Pole. The National Honor Society (NHS) participates annually. Besides using the Pride Pole as a way to fulfill the honor society’s service obligations and to provide service opportunities for its members, Stephanie Langlois, a Leesville social studies teacher and advisor of NHS, views the Pride Pole as a chance to give back to members of the school community.
“Pride Pole supports families in our community, and so by assisting with Pride Pole, we are also helping a family within our community. We’re giving them things that they may not be able to have otherwise,” said Langlois.
NHS collects donations and money from members. Then, the NHS officers shop together for items on the family’s wish list.
Anyone who has adopted a lion needs to return their gifts to the school by December 11, but if you have missed this deadline, do not worry; Huber is happy to accept donations of gift cards from stores such as Target, Food Lion, and Walmart all year long.
The Pride Pole provides volunteers with the chance to assist those facing hardships in the Leesville community. In this season of giving, take a moment to count your blessings and to consider helping others make it through a time of need
“When it comes to the holidays, it is the spirit of giving, and there are a lot of families out there that we don’t realize that are going through a lot of struggles,” Huber said. “Something so simple as providing some clothes can make such a difference in somebody’s life.”