Medical students brighten children’s lives during holiday event

LEWISBURG, WV– Students at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM) made children’s wishes come true with its 20th annual Heart of the Holidays event on Saturday, Dec. 8.

The event, which served 38 children in need, was organized by the school’s chapter of Sigma Sigma Phi (SSP), a national osteopathic service fraternity.

WVSOM SSP president Noah Jordan, Class of 2021, said the organization was pleased to make a positive impact on local children during the holiday season. “As students, this community has welcomed us with open arms, and we’re happy that we have the means to give back. Heart of the Holidays offers us a great opportunity to do that.”

Throughout the Roland P. Sharp Alumni Conference Center, medical students painted holiday-themed designs on kids’ faces, helped them decorate cookies and let them express their creativity with coloring books. Santa’s helpers kept the youngsters entertained, and Santa Claus himself dropped in to give each child a gift from his or her wish list, along with more to open at home.

This year, Heart of the Holidays benefited the Children’s Home Society of West Virginia, which helps place children in foster families, and Right From the Start, a program that aids low-income West Virginia mothers and their babies in leading healthier lives.

Amanda Thomas, a social worker from the Children’s Home Society, said the event lends a sense of normalcy to children facing difficult circumstances.

“Kids are displaced from their families while in foster care, so a lot of them ask, ‘Is Santa going to know where I am?’ An event like this gives them hope during the holiday season and allows them to be around other kids who are going through the same thing,” she said.

In addition to the children’s gifts, each family received a turkey, a ham, a roasting pan, enough groceries to prepare at least two full meals and a $25 Kroger gift card. Children also received stockings containing gloves, hats, cookies, candy, toothbrushes, toothpaste and a copy of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Infants received blankets in their stockings.

In previous years, SSP members purchased gifts using donations from local businesses. This year, students instead conducted a letter-writing campaign to their own families, raising $4,679 in contributions. A T-shirt sale brought in an additional $125, and a grant from Kroger provided $250 to help purchase food items.

Belinda Evans, WVSOM’s director of student life, said a number of medical students were surprised by the hardships some children experience.

“Our students come from many different backgrounds, and many find that in rural West Virginia there’s a greater need than they’ve seen before,” Evans said. “During our preparations, when I was explaining that these kids might not be used to receiving love and attention, I saw some of our young men and women crying. They became so enthusiastic about making a child’s life better, and it got them thinking about how they can leave a legacy for next year’s leadership to do even bigger and better things.”

Other WVSOM student groups that participated in Heart of the Holidays included the pediatrics club, which conducted a diaper drive and hosted the face-painting and coloring book tables, and the family medicine club, which hosted the cookie-decorating table.

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