East St. Louis High School teacher Suzanne Gibson says, “it takes a village, or lots of villages, to raise a child.” She was overjoyed Friday morning thanks to the generosity of strangers from all over the country who donated over $600 and hundreds of items to give Gibson’s students.
What began with a simple Facebook post from Gibson after learning that the majority of her students hadn’t had the best holiday — with few gifts and the shooting of a classmate Johnnie Brim on New Year’s Eve.
“It just broke my heart, especially because I have children of my own, and I’ve become close with my students over the last year I’ve been here, so I know, how much the holidays mean to them,” Gibson said. “And in all the years I’ve been teaching, it’s always fun for kids to share how winter break was, or what presents they got.”
East St. Louis High Assistant Principal Anson Mitchell said Gibson’s work is just another of the “positive initiatives taking place at the high school.”
Teaching assistant Delores Enlow said there have been many moments over the last few weeks that have been very emotional for her.
“I love assisting the children and their needs,” Enlow said. “Seeing the kids realize the happiness it brings them knowing that there are people other than those just in this district, or city of East St. Louis really, who care about them — it’s awesome. I mean you can see it register in their expressions when we say that it’s from people in other towns or other states even.”
Donations for East St. Louis students came from as far away as California and Texas and from nearby states including Indiana, Oklahoma and Missouri and helped stock the “Santa” closet organized by Gibson and Enlow.
Pride is a very real thing here with this culture, so we have to tread lightly.
East St. Louis High School teacher Suzanne Gibson
Enlow and Gibson explained the sensitive nature of the gift giving because students are very private and don’t want others knowing that they are receiving items, such as shoes and personal hygiene items, to assist them and their families.
“Pride is a very real thing here with this culture, so we have to tread lightly,” Gibson said.
Giving insight into how the duo has been approaching students and coordinating efforts, Enlow said her and Mrs. Gibson’s strong family-oriented background played a key role.
“When I first came to work here in 1994, my supervisor (the late) Miss Willie Mae Long taught me how to go in and assist the students, and one thing she told me was, ‘D, you have to be mindful a lot of them don’t know how to ask for help, and a lot of our students don’t know how to receive positive help’...so we know that if we see a child who has holes in their jacket we know they may not have another jacket...so we have to be kind and gentle when it comes, but also supply their needs and assist them if we can.”
After shopping in the “Santa” closet, the students couldn’t stop smiling and were giddy with excitement making comments to Gibson and Enlow like, “you just made my day,” and “it’s so pretty, can I wear it now?” and “I can’t wait to try out the new kicks,” and “thank you.”
Mamie “Mother” Cosey, 75, a Parent Teacher Student Association member and grandmother of one of the recipients, stopped by the classroom to witness “the wonderful works” of Gibson and Enlow.
“This is what I call being creative and operating outside of the box,” Cosey said as she walked into the closet filled with gift items. “It’s awesome. I’m an advocate of education and now I know you both are too. I have goosebumps — don’t make me cry.”
Referring to her grandson’s relationship with Gibson, Cosey said it’s obvious she cares, because she shows overall concern for him in and out of her classroom.
“I see the concern and the excitement to want to help her students, and that’s what good teachers do,” Cosey said.
Shannon Durio, of O’Fallon, said the work her friend, Gibson, is doing goes not only above and beyond the call of duty, but is nothing short of amazing.
“She was saddened to hear that most of her students didn’t get anything for Christmas, so she reached out,” Durio said. “And, the response she got was incredible. Dozens and dozens of people stepped up, and her house is full of incredible gifts for the students. Brand new coats, new shoes, cosmetics, hats and more. All from one Facebook post. One lady bought 20 brand new coats and donated them.”
Donations have been stacking up, literally, according to Gibson, who said she is still receiving anonymous donations.
“Just last night (Thursday), there were six more boxes on my porch delivered from a St. Louis man I don’t know and didn’t have a return address,” Gibson said. “I don’t think we’re done here, and we don’t know how much will continue to come in, but we aren’t going to turn anyone or anything away because there is a need for these kids — and, they’re good kids who deserve it.”