Spring Lake Park High School Opportunities in Emergency Care (OEC) students shopped for district families in need Thursday, Dec. 16, at Target in Blaine during the program’s annual Adopt-a-Family Fundraiser.

The OEC Adopt-a-Family Fundraiser benefited around 80 families this year in the Spring Lake Park School District. Leftover funds were used to purchase food and personal care items for the Panther Pantry, an emergency food pantry for Spring Lake Park Schools students and families located at the District Service Center.

OEC program and teacher Bill Neiss said the Adopt-a-Family Fundraiser helped more families in need than in previous years.

“The need is way up this year,” he said, citing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic as a main cause. “A lot of people are still struggling to get back on their feet.”

“It’s kind of like a mystery right now,” said junior Hussein Mohamoud, about not knowing the anonymous families OEC is helping. “The important thing is we know they got what they needed ... We just want to help. It’s a tough time right now for a lot of families.

Senior Marion Sterk-Ciresi, who participated in the fundraiser for the first time this year, said she understands where struggling families are coming from, because her family struggled when she was younger.

“I was the child of a family that really struggled, and when I got to open presents, I thought it was so amazing,” Sterk-Ciresi said. “Now, I’m so glad to give back to other families who are struggling. ... Hopefully this gives parents the chance to breathe a little easier.”

Students raised $6,600 through a GoFundMe online fundraiser and a collection at the high school. This year’s fundraiser set a program record for donations, taking in nearly $1,000 more than the previous record. Target in Blaine also contributed $250 to the fundraiser in addition to extra discounts.

“This teaches us to care about other people and spread the wealth when we have it,” junior Paige Kiani said. “It’s better to raise money for a good cause instead of raising it for yourself. It’s always a good thing if you can spend money on other people who need more than you do.”

Students spent the afternoon Dec. 16 purchasing items on wish lists compiled by each of the families they helped this year. Students purchased items that were “needs” first, such as blankets, jackets, shoes, personal care items, diapers, etc., followed by at least one “want” that included toys, books, games, etc.

“This time of year is such a material time,” Sterk-Ciresi said. “We’re providing a little bit of the material, but I hope that more than anything we’re providing some comfort. It means so much. I live in a nice house, I have enough food and I have everything I need. To think that I can contribute to someone else having that feels so great.”

This was the first year senior Qikai Lin participated in the Adopt-a-Family Fundraiser. Lin said that being the child of Chinese immigrants he never got to experience Christmas traditions, including presents.

“It’s great seeing what we can do for them, ... and it’s so much fun finally getting to spread some of the Christmas spirit,” Lin said.

“These students realize that they’re here for a reason, and that things aren’t just about them,” Neiss said. “You hear the word community all the time, but how do you make a community? You don’t just call it a community, you have to make it that. It happens with efforts of reaching out, reaching across and getting out of your comfort zone. ... With all these kids do every year, they really impress the adults around them. I’m lucky. I have the best job in the district. I get to work with kids that have heart, kids who want to make a difference and kids who have goals.”

After shopping at the Blaine Target, the students went back to Spring Lake Park High School to wrap the gifts they purchased.


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