Tonawanda News

December 5, 2013

Letters to Santa|

Mullen Elementary takes part in campaign to support Make-A-Wish

By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — They want dolls and toy cars and books. They want Play Doh and My Little Ponies and Legos.

And on Wednesday, all those Christmas wishes at Mullen Elementary School went toward helping other children get their own wishes ... of a different sort.

More than 300 Mullen students took part in a letters-to-Santa writing project to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation via the Macy’s “Believe” campaign, which donates $1 per letter to the foundation. Usually letters are mailed via the iconic red mailboxes at Macy’s stores, but on Wednesday, the students had a visit from an intermediary — Buffalo Sabres’ mascot Sabretooth, who collected letters, posed for photos and distributed high-fives and hugs.

Susan Heiss, a kindergarten teacher who’s been a leader of the Mullen/Make-A-Wish relationship, said the letters are a good way to show students that they can make a difference. With all the current focus on Common Core standards, Heiss said, she doesn’t want other aspects of education to become obsolete.

“I don’t want empathy and caring to be forgotten about,” she said. “This helps show the kids that they can do nice things for others, even though they’re only 5. I think it’s important to reinforce that heart.”

Across the hall, in Barbara Hoddick’s kindergarten classroom, students worked away at their stocking-shaped letters, coloring them red and green. Hoddick asked them what they should fill in after, “This year I have been ...”

“Good!” the students chorused.

Natasha Truesdale, 5, wrote that she wanted a “big doll house” in her letter. She says she knew the class was doing the project for a good cause.

“We do it to help people,” she said. “People who are sick.”

The relationship between Mullen Elementary and the Make-A-Wish Foundation goes back about 13 years, when a student received a wish from the foundation. Over the years, the school and eventually the entire district have donated an estimated $80,000, enough to make about 11 wishes come true. Last year alone, the district donated a record $12,000 to the foundation.

Mary Moore-Hazel, Make-A-Wish development manager, said last year that many school districts contribute, but “No one is on the level of Tonawanda.”

Mullen has raised money through special events and campaigns. On Fridays throughout the year, students can donate $1 to participate in a special event such as Crazy Hair Day, Rock & Roll Day, Pajama Day or the popular Bubble Gum Day. A district-wide dodgeball game was a hit last year. 

“This is just one piece we’re doing this year for Make-A-Wish. We have many different events we put on in our building, as well as throughout the district,” said Mullen Principal Brad Halgash. “The students really get the benefit of learning how to help others ... and that’s a good piece of education there.”

Macy’s generally donates up to $1 million as part of the “Believe” campaign, which has been going on for five years. However, letters mailed Friday — as part of Macy’s National Believe Day — will earn $1 beyond, up to $2 million, Moore-Hazel said. Fifty wishes will be granted that day, including one in Rochester.

Moore-Hazel encouraged letter writers to drop them off Friday, although letters can be submitted through Dec. 24. Last year, $30,000 was raised in the Buffalo area.

“You’re never too old to write a letter to Santa and believe,” she said.

Macy’s sites in the Western New York area include stores at the Boulevard Mall in Amherst, Walden Galleria in Cheektowaga, Eastern Hills Mall in Williamsville and McKinley Mall in Blasdell.