Winter Extravaganza provides Cottonwood students with needed items, giftsFeb 09, 2024 12:08PM ● By Julie Slama
Through donations made by the community, Cottonwood High students found needed items and gifts for their families at the Winter Extravaganza.
It was mid-December when Cottonwood High junior Tabarak Aalibrahim was looking through lunchroom tables filled with books, coats, games, quilts, candles, hats, sports balls, puzzles, holiday decorations, crafts and toys—hoping to find Barbies for her 4-year-old sister. She already had gotten some hair accessories for her 9-year-old sister.
“I’ve been looking forward to this; I want to get them some presents,” said the student, who was born in Iraq.
Student Rose Babala also was looking for her younger sisters, ages 1, 2 and 3. She had picked up socks and shoes as well as some books and toys.
“All this reminds me of being together with my family; there are six of us and my mom,” said the high school junior who moved from Congo five years ago.
They were just two of the hundreds of Cottonwood students who stood in line to for the items that were donated by neighbors, local church congregations and others.
It was the third year of the extravaganza that has provided items for Cottonwood students and often for their families, said Robyn Ivins, who founded the food pantry seven years ago and continues to organize it with other volunteers. She also has been instrumental in establishing Cottonwood’s teen center, which opened this fall to provide resources to students.
“It came about when a few people in the community who donated to our food pantry reached out to us and asked if these kids had enough for Christmas,” Ivins said. “So, we started collecting and giving a few items to kids through the pantry.”
That distribution grew in 2021, the 20th anniversary of 9-11, when students performed a day of service.
“We did a big day of service with some surrounding congregations and community members and a big interfaith project to collect items. It just caught on and somebody started calling it the Christmas Extravaganza—and it has just grown from there,” she said, saying it’s now known as the Winter Extravaganza.
Donors come days before the extravaganza to drop off items for the students’ free “shopping spree.”
“We had 18,000 fliers that went out to the community this year, and hundreds of people dropped off items,” Ivins said. “Then, we had people donate their time to help organize and set out all the donations.”
In 2022, 755 Cottonwood High students, about half the student body, took advantage of the extravaganza. This year, Ivins purchased oversized IKEA shopping bags for 1,000 students. Some of the popular items, such as balls and games, are limited to one per student to stretch them out to as many students as possible.
Ivins has seen some students “shopping” who take advantage of the food pantry every week.
“We basically serve 300 kids per week,” she said. “Very few of these students take much for themselves. We do give students a Cottonwood-branded sweatshirt so that’s usually the one thing they get for themselves. The toys are usually the first thing that goes because they’re choosing things for their siblings. So far this year, we’re doing OK on the hats and candy, and some books; we had a lady donated 300 copies.”
Ivins was answering questions between ensuring the tables were stocked on what she calls, “the funnest day of the year.”
“It’s great to see kids happy for the holidays,” she said. “My main motivation is to get even more donations and more people to help so we can provide Christmas for even more students’ families that otherwise wouldn’t have much.” λ