Some parents look forward to the holiday season, scrambling to buy gifts for friends and family, buying decorations and spending money on yards of wrapping paper. For them, this is a fantastic time of the year. But for others, holiday shopping is a dreaded event. This year, especially, it has become difficult for those with limited funds to make Christmas special for their kids.
For those with children in Sag Harbor Elementary School who cannot afford to purchase gifts this year, the school provides some relief through their “mitten line” — a popular holiday giving program that allows students to choose a paper mitten off a corkboard in the school which describes a child and the gifts they desire.
The mitten line started as a previous program called “The Giving Tree” — named after a popular children’s book by Shel Silverstein. Guidance counselor Eileen Kochanasz, who now works at Pierson High School, began the program through the elementary school guidance office nearly 20 years ago. Current elementary school counselor Michelle Grant renamed the program “The Mitten Line” after a short story that she wrote. In her rhyming story, Grant outlines how a child finds a mitten with the wishes of another child written on it. The child then feels proud on Christmas Day, having helped make Christmas better for someone else.
“We receive a wish list from the parents,” said Grant, explaining how the mitten line process works. Parents are found using school registration documentation or other information that indicates a family may be in need of financial assistance, especially at this time of year.
“Some of the parents contact me,” Grant said. “I am the only one who knows who is getting the gifts.”
“We ask the kids to bring in the gifts unwrapped so that we can give them to the parents unwrapped,” she said and added. “We like the parents to feel involved, and they prefer to wrap the gifts themselves and if they need it —Â we give them the wrapping paper.”
Grant said this year there were 275 mittens that were hung in the hallway at the school, representing a total of 18 families in the district who will receive the gifts. This year, according to Grant, there are 30 kids among the families and they will each receive eight presents.
Grant also said that each child gets certain staple items — like new pajamas, a hat, gloves or scarf, a book, and an arts and crafts item.
“Sometimes there are bigger ticket items like a new bike,” Grant said, “And we can get those from donations by the Parents and Teachers Association (PTA) and Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH).
“Its not easy for the parents,” she said, “It’s really hard to get the parents to ask for help and it can take time. Sometimes it’s situational or a recent divorce, a single parent or a medical issue.”Â
Grant collects all the gifts in her office, and then said that she privately meets with the parents at their work, home, or street corner to hand them the gifts.