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Hall High School senior Nathan Burkman adjusts a seat on a boys bike in instructor’s Joe Panzica’s auto mechanical workshop at the high school. Students assembled 62 bikes to be given away to children in need.
On Christmas morning, kids across the Illinois Valley will wake up excited to see what Santa brought them.
But what about children in families struggling to make ends meet and cannot afford Christmas presents?
Hall High School students have been working hard for over seven years to make sure some underprivileged children get a least one toy for Christmas — a bicycle.
The project started several years ago with three bikes purchased and donated to a local church by the Hall science club and has grown to at least 66 bikes being donated to Project Success of Eastern Bureau County Inc. this year.
“Christmas is all about giving and doing things for others, so this is kind of a way for us to reiterate that,” said Clarissa Gerrard, a senior and president of the science club.
Gerrard added that this shows that teenagers do care about helping out their community and people in need.
The bikes are purchased from local retailers and assembled by the power mech club. Joe Panzica, auto mechanics teacher, said he likes to buy in bulk when there is a good deal. Money for the bikes is raised by the two clubs and the above the influence club. Also, many faculty and community members, including state Rep. Frank Mautino (D-Spring Valley), donate money.
“The kids we got here are extremely good kids,” said Panzica about Hall students. “It’s a lot of kids doing good things.”
Panzica said requests for bikes from Project Success grow each year and luckily the students can raise money to provide lots of kids with a very special Christmas gift. He said many parents and grandparents have approached him with thanks for providing their kids with a present.
“This is going to be my legacy from working here,” he said.
This will be the last year for Panzica to work with the students on the bike project because he will be retiring at the end of the school year. However, he hopes the experience he provided for his students will allow them to think of others especially at Christmas time.
“I like driving by and seeing these bicycles outside the houses,” said Nathan Burkman, a senior at Hall who has worked on the project for three years. “I say, ‘Oh, there’s one of the bicycles I worked on.’”
Burkman said that before he started working on the project he never thought about the children who would go without presents each year.
“It’s just a good deed to do. Some kids are underprivileged and we are helping them out,” said Aaron Kerr, senior and president of the auto mech club.
Science club moderator Nikki Barto said she is amazed by how the project has grown over the years and is proud of the students for getting the money raised.
“It just makes me feel happy because I know I get a lot of Christmas presents and knowing that somebody doesn’t get as many or any at all is kind of upsetting,” said Josie Wales, junior and treasurer of the science club.
She added that knowing they make a child’s Christmas special is a great feeling. Kaitlyn Padgett, senior and vice-president of the science club, hopes the project will help a lot of kids and cannot wait to hear how it has affected their lives.
Currently, about 90 students in auto mechanics classes have put together 30 bikes. Kerr said it takes about 10 minutes to put a bike together. Panzica continues to pick up more bikes and said they will put together as many as they can with the money and time they have available. He said there is about $3,000 invested in the project.
When they are done, the bikes will be dropped off at Project Success and parents choose among the bikes and other collected toys as part of their annual toy drive. Participants are accepted through the food pantry or referrals from local schools.
“There are so many kids who don’t have a chance for a good Christmas and I just want them to feel that there are people who are looking out for them no matter what so they can enjoy that joy of Christmas,” Gerrard said.