The Giving Hope Charity (GHC), a Mount Vernon-based nonprofit that serves Knox County children, helped to make the holiday season a little brighter for local underprivileged elementary school students with their traditional GHC event on Dec. 17, which included a holiday party and a Walmart shopping spree for students and their families.
The GHC event occurred for the first time during the 2020 Christmas season, when many local students were facing pandemic-related social isolation and heightened financial difficulties. In an effort to increase holiday spirit for students, a group of Mount Vernon City School District bus drivers and maintenance employees decided to donate profits from their bus garage’s snack shop to fund a small holiday party and shopping outing for kids in need.
The GHC was officially established as a non-profit organization in 2021 and has been able to grow each year since, largely due to the generous number of donations it has received and sponsorships it has with local businesses. In 2020, the event served six elementary school students, one from each of Mount Vernon’s six public elementary schools, who each received $200 to spend at Walmart, accompanied by a volunteer. Students celebrated the season at a small holiday party with their families before they boarded a festively decorated school bus commandeered by Santa to head to Walmart.
According to GHC Executive Director Dave Shoro, each year social workers, guidance counselors and principals at each Mount Vernon City school recommend students who have displayed impressive personal, academic or extracurricular achievement despite unfavorable circumstances they have faced, and the organization selects which students are served.
The number of students served by the program has increased each year since its inception. According to GHC Secretary Christine Hohman, the organization served 12 elementary school students, three middle school students and four high school students in 2021. Last year, it served 18 elementary school students, six middle school students and eight high school students, as well as 20 residents of the Children’s Resource Center, a local foster care center. At its most recent event, the organization was able to give students $250 as well as add new activities to the traditional holiday party, such as face-painting, cookie-decorating and ornament-making.
Shoro noted that directing the organization is a difficult but humbling task. He explained that a number of students use their money to buy gifts for their family members, for small household appliances that their families could not normally afford or for clothing to wear to job interviews. “There’s so many stories to tell that it’s just heartwrenching,” he said. “It makes us feel good that we’re able to really have a direct effect on the kids that we serve every day.”
In the future, Shoro noted that he hopes to help donors and sponsors become more involved in the organization’s work. “We want our sponsors to come in and encourage them to be part of the charity and be part of the event that they’re sponsoring,” he said.
The GHC also has a second project in the works: a book bus, which is an old school bus the organization has purchased and plans to fill with hundreds of books. The GHC plans to begin driving the bus around the area this summer to pass out books in an effort to encourage local students to spend more time reading.