Student Santas help area's needy children

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

On the outskirts of town sits an old trailer with a ratty van outside. The door opens to reveal the two adults and five children who live inside. The children have nothing to play with and they are dressed in shorts and T-shirts in mid-December.

Megan Devenport, a sophomore at Southeast Missouri State University, saw this last December when she helped deliver presents to some local children.

"When the kids saw the presents, their little eyes just lit up and the mom cried," Devenport said. "It breaks your heart, but it warms your heart at the same time to know you are doing something so good for these people. In some cases, you are changing their life."

Devenport is vice president of Student Santas, a not-for-profit registered student organization at Southeast. According to Jennifer Icaza-Gast, founder of Student Santas and instructor in the communication studies department, the organization's mission is to give presents to children who otherwise would have very little on Christmas morning.

Icaza-Gast was overcome with sadness while watching her children open gifts on Christmas morning in 2005.

"It was when I watched my own children opening their gifts that I immediately thought of other children," Icaza-Gast said. "I was thinking like a mother."

The following year she founded Student Santas.

Student Santas gets letters from Missouri and surrounding states from parents who need help at Christmas. Icaza-Gast said the media has helped spread awareness of the organization.

"Student Santas has given thousands of toys away and has helped over 8,000 kids," she said. "SEMO students as well as people from the community help in delivering the toys."

Devenport said being involved with Student Santas has allowed her to see another world.

"If you go through your everyday life you don't realize how many people live in poverty; how many people would love a bed, a warm home and even a toy to open on Christmas," Devenport said. "Reading the letters you read about some of these people's home lives -- most kids ask for toys, of course, but there are letters that break your heart. Especially when they ask for something like a bed."

Devenport said Student Santas received a letter last year and all the child requested for Christmas was a bed.

"We obviously didn't have the funds to buy them a bed, so we went to Walmart and bought them a blow up mattress," Devenport said. "We don't normally like to spend that much [on one gift], but this family broke our hearts."

Rick Post, a Southeast senior and volunteer for Student Santas, joined the organization last fall.

"I just realized how one small organization could help out so many people," Post said. "Professor Gast went into detail toward the end of the semester on what the organization did and the specifics of the people it helped. That is when I came to understand how important it really was."

Post said that he has gained a lot from his experiences working with Student Santas.

"I have learned how much fun it is to work with people, even when you are not receiving any materialistic compensation," Post said. "It makes every member happy, I would hope; to know that their time and effort makes a difference in the community."

Post hopes that other students and community members will be touched the same way he was by this organization.

"Anyone with a heart would easily understand what other families must be going through, and realize that a little bit of money and time each month of the holiday season would make a difference," Post said.

Post said this year he will help transport many of the toys and gifts to a storage space in Jackson and distribute them before Christmas.

The annual toy drive began in early November and will continue until Dec. 16. Donors can drop new toys at three locations: Prompt Care at 2130 E. Jackson Blvd. in Jackson, My Daddy's Cheesecake at 265 S. Broadview St. in Cape Girardeau and Innovative Orthodontics at 2103 Broadway in Cape Girardeau. Cash donations should be mailed to Student Santas P.O. Box 641 Cape Girardeau, MO 63702.

Some local businesses are also helping with the effort. Ten percent of the proceeds collected at Gordonville Grill on Nov. 15 were given to Student Santas. My Daddy's Cheesecake will be rewarding coupons for free dessert to customers who bring in a toy to donate. Those who bring a toy donation to Prompt Care will be entered in a drawing for a free flu shot. Patients at Innovative Orthodontics can be entered into a drawing for a cash prize in exchange for a donation.

Devenport said Student Santas is a great cause that helps put the joy and hope back in children's hearts.

"We help families who don't have the money and resources to help themselves," she said. "Everyone who has helped us has been wonderful. There are so many people who want to help out with our organization and that number is growing every year."

For more information about Student Santas, contact Jennifer Icaza-Gast at jgast@semo.edu.

Pertinent addresses:

2130 East Jackson Blvd., Jackson, MO

265 South Broadview St., Cape Girardeau, MO

2103 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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