The halls of The Episcopal School of Dallas are bursting with holiday cheer as Christmas Day approaches. Seniors and fifth-graders decorate ornaments to hang on the tree in the Study Commons, reindeer paintings adorn the walls of the Lower School hallways, and Middle School choir students sing in perfect harmony during their caroling trip around Dallas. Spreading Christmas cheer at ESD, however, is about so much more; for the School, the holidays are a time to give back to the Dallas community.
This season’s projects started before Thanksgiving Break when seniors Gretchen Mahoney and Margot McGee chaired a breakfast at the Original Pancake House to raise money for the St. Philip’s School and Community Center Christmas Store. In just a few hours, members of the Community Service Council raised nearly $400 to donate to the cause. The ESD Booster Club also donated money to help purchase gifts.
“ESD does a tremendous job of introducing students to a wide variety of organizations and volunteer work,” Mahoney said. “The School already has a great partnership with St. Philip’s, so it was especially meaningful to be able to help the students we have grown to know and love during the holidays.”
For McGee, being part of the ESD Community Service Council has made her more aware of the numerous philanthropic opportunities available in the community.
“The Community Service Program at ESD allows students to help people in the local community and around the world,” she said. “I am so grateful to be part of because it has really made me a better and more appreciative person.”
For each holiday season, ESD’s Director of Community Service, Christi Morrow, compiles a variety of activities for students of all ages to participate in. Projects range from helping distribute gifts during the Christmas service at Brother Bill’s Helping Hand, staffing Santa’s Workshop in Inwood Village for the Genesis Women’s Shelter, and decorating holiday cards to accompany meals for elderly and disabled clients of the Visiting Nurse Association’s Meals on Wheels program.
At the Lower School, third-grade students and families organize a food drive for North Dallas Shared Ministries. This year’s goal of 350 bags was quickly surpassed as the entire Lower School community pitched in to donate more than 570 bags to food insecure men, women, and children.
“We really helped feed a lot of kids, and North Dallas Shared Ministries said this is one of the largest donations they will receive this year,” one student explained. “It makes me happy that I’m helping a boy or girl less fortunate than me have a better holiday.”
The Lower and Middle School choirs also performed at nearby nonprofit organizations, including the Caruth Haven Court Retirement Center and Monticello West.
“My favorite was getting to sing to the people at the West Dallas Senior Center and Children’s Medical Center,” Colby Henderson '22 said. “It was really great to see people smile and light up when we sang our Christmas carols.”
During exams, Middle School students visited the St. Philip’s School and Community Center, the North Texas Food Bank to serve as classroom assistants and help sort donations. Others spent their study breaks sorting and packing shoes for orphans in Guatemala as part of Buckner Shoes for Orphan Soles, and decorating Christmas boxes filled with gifts for students at St. Philip’s.
The Class of 2015 created a new tradition and purchased small gifts for all of the School’s staff in celebration of the holiday season. Each faculty and staff member also received a beautiful red or white poinsettia plant, and the ESD Parents’ Association went above and beyond to supply the teacher’s lounge with festive snacks. Upper School students also decorated Christmas cookies for students at Foster Elementary.
“The Community Service Program broadens the outlooks of our students and prepares them for a lifetime of service to others,” Morrow said. “Students are encouraged to discover ways to make a difference in areas that interest them.”
The students’ time and energy doesn’t peak with the holidays, in fact, Upper School students are continuously working on large-scale projects. In the fall, senior Victoria Siu organized a self-defense class for women at Genesis Women’s Shelter. Other projects have included buildings benches for public parks, selling lemonade to help fight childhood cancer, running a summer baseball program for children with physical and mental disabilities, and hosting E-Waste drives to protect the environment.
In recognition for their efforts last year, 292 Upper School students earned the President’s Volunteer Service Award for completing a minimum of 100 hours of community service within 12 months. In the Middle School, students host an annual “Lucky Ducky Derby” to raise money for water filtration systems in third-world countries. The entire ESD community is also invited to work on the School’s now annual Habitat for Humanity house.
“The students have put their faith into action during the Christmas season and met critical needs in the Dallas community through their participation in age-appropriate service projects,” Morrow said. “There is no greater calling than to teach our children to lead as servants.”