By Konstantine Fekos
VERNON TOWNSHIP —
How many children write to Santa Claus asking not to receive gifts?
Regardless of guesses and popular opinion, this request makes perfect sense to first-grader Lilly Groover, who instead asked for help purchasing items for the world’s poor.
That such a young girl’s spirit of giving knows no boundaries served to impress not only her family in Meadville, but also her teachers and peers at West End Elementary School in Vernon Township.
“She came to me one night, wanting to help someone in need,” said mother Susan Groover. “We made a list of charities and decided on Samaritan’s Purse.”
In addition to local charities, the Groover family has donated to the international Christian relief group for years via the Operation Christmas Child program, hoping to aid in the organization’s spiritual and physical service to victims of war, poverty, natural disasters and disease in more than 100 countries worldwide.
“It takes a 6-year-old heart to think of something like that,” Susan Groover added. “I started crying when she told me about it; I was so touched.”
The letter, typed on mom’s laptop in late October, circulated around Jennifer Simpson’s first-grade class, sending ripples of excitement that reached the administration office.
“We’re very proud of Lilly for writing the letter, and the class for embracing it,” said West End Elementary Principal Tamara Clark. “It’s very heartening; it really shows the spirit of the community.”
While impressed with the thought coming from students so young, Clark wasn’t surprised by another charity initiative launched from within school walls, having assisted students most recently with Hurricane Sandy relief efforts for East Coast states.
“It’s not charity for the sake of charity,” she explained. “The kids want to make a difference in the world. For Lilly to have put together that letter is remarkable.”
Below her introductory request, Lilly Groover listed several preferred items she believes best represent the needs of impoverished nations.
Items, available from the Samaritan’s Purse catalog, include blankets, milk, a week’s worth of food for adults and infants, mosquito nets, baby chicks, rabbits and stuffed lambs, specifically stuffed lambs that read “Jesus loves me,” for holiday significance.
“I am not expecting to purchase every item, but this is my top eight choices out of the catalog,” Lilly Groover writes. “I feel that God has led me to make this important decision to help others this Christmas season.”
Now a ‘class act’
Despite her adamant desire to help those in need, Lilly Groover was originally reticent to share her letter with others, addressing it to relatives and of course, Santa Claus. Overcoming shyness, with the support of her family, she read her letter in front of her class Wednesday morning.
“We decided the best support would be to make it a class project to keep it between people she knows; she’s very humble about the whole situation,” said Simpson. “She gets it. She articulates how she wants to help and how important it is to help others on a global scale.”
Simpson plans to send order forms home with her students today, highlighting the letter’s eight items in order to fulfill Lilly Groover’s request, each of which is $20 or less.
“The kids are so excited to jump on board with donations and generosity,” she observed, pleased with the seasonal rollover of her class’ general teachings of kindness and support with emphasis on philanthropy.
Simpson plans to collect order forms from Dec. 10 to 21 to complete the project in time for holiday break.
“It’s really inspiring; not just for first-graders, but for everyone,” she concluded. “It reminds us what the holidays are really about.”
West End Elementary administrators and guidance counselors echoed Simpson’s remarks and expressed their pride in student initiatives to give back to their community as well as communities beyond.
“If we raise service-minded children at this age, we can count on them to serve in the future,” said Clark. “I think the general public would be surprised at how frequently our students open their hearts to help those in need.”
While Lilly still shies away from the recent publicity of her generous endeavor, her mother revealed her daughter’s happiness and excitement regarding the considerable response from both mentors and peers.
“Lilly is excited that others are going to help; it’s a wonderful thing that we never expected,” Susan Groover said. “And she still hasn’t asked for a Christmas present.”
Konstantine Fekos can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.