BROWNSTOWN

After selecting items from the community food pantry shelves, local residents were greeted with a smile and a gift from Brownstown Central High School students involved in the iGrad program.

The students had spent about a month collecting personal hygiene items from school corporation employees and the local Tri Kappa sorority.

Those items were placed into Ziploc bags along with cards made by Deb Schwartz’s special needs class and a few pieces of candy. A note was tied to each bag reading, “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from iGrad 2016.”

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It gave the students a good feeling as they smiled and said “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays” while handing out the gift bags.

One woman receiving a gift bag replied, “God bless you,” while a young girl’s face lit up and she said, “I love it.”

“It just warmed up my heart. I love seeing people smile because of me giving them stuff. It feels amazing,” sophomore Cindy Cross said.

“I like to help brighten somebody’s day,” senior Mason Dillard said.

This is the first year for iGrad at Brownstown. The program, which started in 2012 in Bartholomew County, identifies at-risk students and focuses on increasing high school graduation rates and decreasing the number of dropouts.

When Dillard learned iGrad was going to do a service project to help the food pantry, he was all for it.

“Helping the less fortunate and people trying to get up on their feet, I thought it would be a good activity,” he said. “It just helps us get more social with the community.”

Cross said it was great to see the program come together for the project.

“iGrad is like a family, and we love helping each other out, and we love helping other people out,” she said.

Kate Shoemaker and Terrye Davidson are the iGrad coaches at Brownstown.

They decided to have the students do a service project once the program reached 30 participants.

“It seemed like since we had the food pantry, it was a great opportunity around the holiday season to be able to have the kids have the opportunity to give back,” Davidson said. “When we asked them about it, we weren’t really sure what kind of reception we would get, but they were all in.”

Just before Thanksgiving, word was sent out to the community that iGrad was collecting personal hygiene items, including soap, lotion, deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner.

People responded in a big way.

“We didn’t know if we’d get five things or we’d get 500,” Davidson said, laughing. “We got way closer to 500. There were two tables full of stuff. We got wonderful participation from the Brownstown school system staff and the ladies from Brownstown Tri Kappa.”

The iGrad students then sorted the items, put them in bags along with the Christmas cards and placed the tags on the outside.

A handful of the students were able to stay after school the day of the food pantry to hand out the gift bags.

Davidson said they chose to do personal hygiene bags because the pantry doesn’t get those items that often.

“I got to thinking, ‘Those things cost lots of money. They are going to buy food first and do without some hygiene items,’” she said. “That’s why we thought it would be kind of a treat, especially at the holidays. Everything we gave out was new, and (there were) lots of nice lotion and shampoo.”

The iGrad coaches said it was a great project for their students.

“Just the feeling you get when you give somebody something and the joy that they receive and they look at you like, ‘Oh my gosh! Thank you so much,’” Shoemaker said. “It’s just that feeling, they finally get that.”

It was a great opportunity for the students because school or work commitments prevent some of them from doing service projects, Davidson said.

“We were just delighted at the reception that we got from the kids and them wanting to do that,” she said.

“It’s something they wanted to do,” Shoemaker added.

Schwartz, who also volunteers with the food pantry, said she was happy to include her students in the project. They colored pictures to include in the cards and signed their name on the cards.

“My kids enjoyed it,” she said. “We always want to try to give back to the community as much as possible.”

The iGrad students were treated to a chili luncheon as a reward for their work with the project.

The coaches said they may try another service project in the spring.

“Now that they have seen (the food pantry project), maybe they’ll come up with an idea,” Davidson said. “That’s always a good opportunity when they get to come up with ideas.”

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Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.