Former staff, students join annual Ivywild Christmas Basket Project

       The Ivywild School gym was a flurry of activity Dec. 18, as more than 50 volunteers worked to fill 50 baskets with items ranging from canned food to fresh fruit to soap to wrapped toy presents.
       The effort was part of the school's 16th annual Christmas Basket Project to brighten the holidays for needy school families, according to staff member/event organizer Marilyn Eggleston.
       As is typical of the effort, volunteers ranged from old to young, including current and past staff members and students. The stacks and stacks of items are donated from a variety of sources, principally Wal-Mart, local churches and school staff, Eggleston said.
       “I love this old school,” said one of the former students, Becky Byers, who brought her two small children with her to help out. A student in the '80s, she has since married, moved to Oklahoma and returned to the region, living now in the north end of town. “Every year at Christmas my kids and I try to donate time to some group,” she explained. “In Oklahoma it was the fire department.”
       Ivywild became the entity of choice this year after Byers drove by it and felt fond memories - including from the year 1983, when the school beat back a district attempt to close it (similar to what happened this year). Asked how Ivywild looks to her now, she smiled, “Smaller.”
       As the school year goes along, Eggleston said she becomes aware of the students experiencing hard times. She knows how that can happen in the Ivywild attendance area, having been involved with the school southwest of downtown as a parent or staff member since 1978.
       Other teachers and staff also look for needy kids so that, as Christmas nears, the school sends requests to a list of families: Would they like a Christmas basket? If the answer is yes, they get on the list, Eggleston said.
       Some families also come to her, looking for help to give their kids a Christmas. That was how the Basket Project started 16 years ago, when “six or seven” families approached her, Eggleston recalled. It's grown from there.
       The wrapped presents in each basket were in response to Christmas wishes from individual students, teacher Cathy Whitney pointed out.
       This year, 19 of the 50 families are not English-speaking, Eggleston said. But their stories are not necessarily sorrowful. “They're moving up,” she said. “They started in hotels, and now they're in small houses.”
       For 22 years, Esther Lobato was a teacher's aide, specializing in English as a second language at Ivywild. She retired last May, but was back Dec. 18 to assist with the Basket Project. “It's a great feeling to help the families in need,” she said. “I'm a Westsider. This part of the community is like family.”
       Mike Rasdall, a current teacher's aide at Ivywild, came down with his father, Mick. “I'm supporting my son,” said the elder Rasdall, who also helped out at the school's barbecue last Labor Day. “I think it's fabulous.”
       “These are our families,” the younger Rasdall explained.
       Another retired teacher on hand was Sharon Stephens, who had taught music at Ivywild for nine years before stepping down three years ago (although she stepped in as a half-time substitute music teacher last year). “I wouldn't miss this for anything,” she said. “I love these children.”

Westside Pioneer article