School Children Give Gifts That Count

“It’s amazing doing Gifts for Life,” said Claudia, a fifth grader at Episcopal Lower School in Baton Rouge. “It’s helping kids all over the world and it’s fun. I feel great after making something and raising money for children. I love helping.” 

Claudia has been participating in her school’s annual Gifts for Life Christmas fundraiser since it began in 2006. “While some of the younger kids may not understand the impact of what we’re doing, the fifth graders were in second grade when they started this [fundraiser],” said Cheryl Ollmann, the Lower School’s Division Head. “Their knowledge has really grown.”

Ollmann, who oversees students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, started the annual fundraiser four years ago. Inspired by a holiday challenge on the Oprah Winfrey Show in which audience members were each given $1,000 to make a difference in someone else’s life, she came up with a plan to modify this challenge for her students.

The students were asked to change the lives of others through Episcopal Relief & Development’s Gifts for Life program. By purchasing gifts from the alternative gift catalog, the students help ensure children and families living in poverty have vital supplies, services and opportunities. This year, gifts they purchased included an animal farm, drought resistant seeds, clean water for a family, care for a mother and baby, food for school children and many others.

“Originally, I gave each class $10 to create items to sell and they used the profits to purchase Gifts for Life,” Ollmann said. With the seed money, students work to build birdhouses and make chocolate dipped pretzels, ornaments and gift tags. Many parents get involved as well – the project has been a huge success and has grown a little bit more each year.

Now, the classes in each grade level pool their money and work together to make their items to sell. Not only does this give the students a larger initial amount with which to fund their projects, it also creates an opportunity for collaboration and mentoring between age groups: Second graders work with fourth graders; first graders work with fifth graders; and third graders work with the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students.

The making of items to sell for the fundraiser has become an activity that students look forward to each year. Chloe, another fifth grader, said, “It’s so much fun to do Gifts for Life! You get to make tons of cool things like bird houses, pretzels, tags and ornaments.” She continued, “The best part about it is you get to give things to the less fortunate.”

Following the sale of their items, the money raised is divided equally among the classes, and each class can decide what gifts they’d like to purchase from the Gifts for Life catalog. In an assembly that takes place the last day before Christmas vacation, the website is projected on the wall and representatives from each class announce their gift choices and make purchases while the other students watch.

“It makes me feel good inside when I get to have fun and give at the same time,” says Kate, another fifth-grade student. Cultivating this spirit was one of Ollmann’s goals in starting the project. She explains that, “throughout December, the chaplain weaves in stories having to do with the season of giving and what it means to give to others selflessly.” The lesson is reflected in the students’ enthusiasm for the Gifts for Life project.

This year, the students at the Episcopal Lower School of Baton Rouge raised more than $4,000, bringing the fundraiser’s four year total to nearly $17,000 contributed to Episcopal Relief & Development through Gifts for Life.

“This is a great example of how Gifts for Life can be used as a tool to teach children about engaging with a world in need,” said Brian Sellers-Petersen, Episcopal Relief & Development’s Director of Church Engagement. “Gifts for Life is a wonderful giving opportunity that is relevant year-round. It’s great to see the students at the Episcopal Lower School of Baton Rouge using this program to make a difference.”

Honor a loved one by making a gift through Gifts for Life. Each purchase comes with a customizable e-card to let him or her know about your thoughtful gesture. To browse the catalog, visit