NEW RICHMOND -- Early in the morning before the start of school, four Hillside Elementary students with the help of their teacher, Michelle Calleja, and mom Jessica Smith proved the COVID-19 virus was no match for the spirit of Christmas.
Over the course of the next few days, the school had plans to make similar deliveries to several other senior living facilities in the area.
“We delivered 130 boxes to The Deerfield this morning. 160 more will go to Woodland Hill in Hudson, 35 to the St. Croix County Health Center, 15 to Our House in New Richmond, and the remainder to Christian Community Home locations in Hudson,” Calleja said that Wednesday.
It is no secret, the past nine months have taken their toll on everyone and nowhere has that been more evident than in nursing care facilities across the country. Winter is setting in and COVID-19 cases are once again on the rise demanding restrictive visitation policies counter to the spirit of the season.
“We hope our students will learn the joy of giving and hope the residents will see these gifts as a beacon of hope in these difficult times,” Calleja said.
The idea for the holiday haul was Calleja’s brainchild.
“My team puts up with a lot of brainstorms from me, but this was by FAR the biggest project we've taken on. We presented the idea the week before Thanksgiving, and Hillside Elementary took it and ran! Most classrooms had a day to talk about the project, and why we would do it, another day to create their wreaths, another to make the boxes, and a day to write their letter or card,” Calleja explained.
Donations from local businesses helped to make the project a reality.
Ryan, Kirk, and Korey Nelson of Kozy Korner Pizza, located in North Hudson, donated pizza boxes for students to wrap, while 3M Engineer Nick Dahm did the leg work for securing the hook donation.
"We have seen the ramifications of COVID-19 on small businesses, and they are still stepping in to help us. We are so lucky to live in such an amazing community," Calleja said.
Next, they put on their artist hats and went to work creating their wreaths, one wreath per student, 520 wreaths in total.
Each wreath was accompanied by a letter from the student who designed it. Students introduced themselves, asked Christmas related questions of the resident and shared some of their favorite things about the holiday. Each letter also included a photo of the student.
Jackie Waalen, The Deerfield housing director, met the Calleja and her student helpers at the main entrance with a cart.
A short time later, her “sleigh” piled high with pizza boxes, Waalen and her staff began distributing the student’s gifts of holiday cheer into the grateful hands of residents.
“The residents truly enjoyed the wonderful holiday letters and wreaths!! It made their day. Thank you!” Waalen said.