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.

Th

Students Aubrey Jo and Charli Dudley, accompanied by their mother, Jessica Smith, delivered holiday gifts to The Deerfield on Wednesday, Dec. 2, as part of the Hillside Elementary School Holiday Cheer project. Tom Lindfors / RiverTown Multimedia
Students Aubrey Jo and Charli Dudley, accompanied by their mother, Jessica Smith, delivered holiday gifts to The Deerfield on Wednesday, Dec. 2, as part of the Hillside Elementary School Holiday Cheer project. Tom Lindfors / RiverTown Multimedia
e students on Dec. 2 delivered stacks of festively decorated pizza boxes filled with homemade holiday wreaths designed by 516 of their classmates to the seniors at The Deerfield senior living facility in New Richmond.

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.

Deerfield resident Joan Eiffes knew exactly what to do with her holiday gift Dec. 2 from a Hillside Elementary School student. Photo submitted
Deerfield resident Joan Eiffes knew exactly what to do with her holiday gift Dec. 2 from a Hillside Elementary School student. Photo submitted

“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.

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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.

Hillside Elementary students went to work decorating pizza boxes and creating wreaths to be delivered to residents of area senior living facilities as part of the New Richmond school's Holiday Cheer project. Submitted photo
Hillside Elementary students went to work decorating pizza boxes and creating wreaths to be delivered to residents of area senior living facilities as part of the New Richmond school's Holiday Cheer project. Submitted photo

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.

Emilee Dudley deliveres a stack of gift boxes almost as tall as she is to residents of The Deerfield as part of the Hillside Elementary School Holiday Cheer project. Tom Lindfors / RiverTown Multimedia
Emilee Dudley deliveres a stack of gift boxes almost as tall as she is to residents of The Deerfield as part of the Hillside Elementary School Holiday Cheer project. Tom Lindfors / RiverTown Multimedia

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.

Hillside

Deerfield resident Donna Mechelke caught the holiday spirit after opening her gift from a student at Hillside Elementary School. Submitted photo
Deerfield resident Donna Mechelke caught the holiday spirit after opening her gift from a student at Hillside Elementary School. Submitted photo
Elementary continues to hold classes in-person, so 520 students spent three days working on the project. First they discussed with their teachers why it might be important to make the wreaths, what it might mean to residents and what students could expect to get out of the experience.

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.

Deerfield resident Don Jorgensen displays the holiday wreath he received as part of the Holiday Cheer project put together by the students and staff at Hillside Elementary School. Submitted photo
Deerfield resident Don Jorgensen displays the holiday wreath he received as part of the Holiday Cheer project put together by the students and staff at Hillside Elementary School. Submitted photo

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.