Pulse of Philanthropy: Cari’s Holiday Store

My wife, Cari, teaches third grade in a public school in downtown Green Bay. You’d be hard pressed to identify a more wonderfully diverse group of kids anywhere in Wisconsin. 

In her classroom, you’ll find the children of immigrant families from Mexico, and many are the kids of Somalian refugees. Several others are Hmong children who are descended from a previous generation of refugees. The most recent addition to her classroom is a Pashtun child whose family was evacuated from Afghanistan. Among Cari’s students you’ll see a blonde, blue-eyed girl playing with another beautiful girl who’s wearing a hijab. 

One of the most wonderful things about the children in Cari’s classroom is that they’re too young to know they’re supposed to hate each other. Her students sometimes tease one another and say unkind things, but they’re just kids being kids. Ultimately, her classroom is the way we’d like the world to be: folks making friends with those they like and living peacefully with those they don’t, based on the kind of people they are rather than their religion, ethnicity or nationality. 

This is why my wife is so good with this diverse group of kids. Cari can find something lovable in anyone, and she unknowingly models that behavior for everyone around her.

Sadly, many of the kids in Cari’s classroom come from some of the most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in Green Bay. When she taught in school in Door County, she would come home for Christmas with gift cards and other presents from her students. At her current school, the students have the same desire to give, but many have little to spare. My wife still gets a tear in her eye when she talks about the greatest gift she ever received from a student. 

A young boy from a struggling family wanted to give Cari a present, but she knew that his family was struggling. Yet on the last school day before Christmas, the boy brought her a gift. He had wrapped a tube of toothpaste and a roll of toilet paper. This little boy was smiling from ear to ear because he had found something he could share with his beloved teacher.

There is a special kind of joy that comes from giving rooted in gratitude. We are so deeply grateful for what we have, and our heart overflows with a desire to share our abundance, even if that abundance consists of nothing more than a tube of toothpaste and a roll of toilet paper. 

For years, Cari has been finding ways for her students to experience the joy of giving. Celebrating a birthday usually involves the birthday child taking a treat to school. Unfortunately, there are always families for which that expense is too much. Thus, Cari will stop at the grocery store before school, then secretly sneak a tray of cupcakes into the hands of the birthday boy or girl so he or she can experience the joy of sharing.

This year, my wife wanted to create a way for her students to give to the people they were most grateful to have in their lives – generally their parents, stepparents and grandparents. 

She organized a holiday store where the kids could “buy” gifts for their loved ones using “dollars” earned during the school year. To stock the shelves of her store, Cari asked for help from our family members and friends in Door County. For the two weeks prior to Christmas, people showed up at our door with small gift items to donate to Cari’s store. Each time people dropped off a bag, the joy on their face was evident as they shared from their own abundance. The store grew so big that Cari opened it up to all five of her school’s third-grade classrooms. 

On the day of Cari’s holiday store, the students began “shopping” in waves. As the first group of children finished and wrapped the presents, Cari overheard one little girl say to another, “I can’t believe I get to give something to my mom this year.” It was a sentiment heard many times that day.

When it was over, Cari said she looked at the faces of these joyful and grateful kids and recalled a line from Winnie-the-Pooh. 

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” It was a merry Christmas indeed.

Contact Bret Bicoy at [email protected]