The Etowah cafeteria was full of activity Friday afternoon, with hundreds of students hanging lights and streamers to welcome local children to the Shop with an Eagle event conducted Saturday morning.
Nicole Diaz, daughter of Rudy and Jose, said she got involved last year as a junior and enjoyed helping younger students in her community.
“It was fun to see all the kids and know we were able to give them an experience they’ve never really had before,” the 17-year-old said.
Diaz and 252 of her classmates took the children to the Target shopping center on Highway 92 and gave them $125 each to spend.
Kristy Szpindor, the school’s community service facilitator, said Etowah is in its second year of the program, having doubled the number of students it served in 2011.
More than $15,900 was raised by various schoolwide efforts specifically for Shop with an Eagle, Szpindor said.
She said she and co-sponsors Mary Shell and Erin Jacobs recruit students in National Honors Society and Etowah Student Ambassadors, among other student organizations, during their home room classes.
Szpindor said the less fortunate students, who come from Chapman Intermediate and Bascomb, Boston, Clark Creek and Oak Grove elementaries, are recommended by their school counselors as in-need and their parents fill out a form with their clothing sizes and Christmas wish list.
Senior Clara Romero, daughter of Daniel and Clara Romero, said her favorite part last year was getting to know the young girl she shopped with and meeting her mother and sister afterward.
“They cried they were so overwhelmed,” Romero said of the family members. “At first, the little girl was so shy but she really opened up a lot more to us. We had a really great time.”
Romero, 17, said the experience is a memorable one for many Etowah students.
“We live in a pretty nice area to begin with so sometimes you kind of forget (the need),” Romero said. “Maybe our siblings might go to school with these kids. You never know... To be able to give back to a community that’s given so much to us is the best part.”
Allison Gubert, daughter of Julie and Rick Gubert, said all her 6-year-old friend wanted to do last year was buy gifts for her parents, but she was able to get a Barbie doll and a purple dress to enjoy for herself.
Szpindor said children didn’t have to worry about buying gifts for their parents this year, as the Etowah PTSA set up a shop in the cafeteria for the students to pick free gifts for their parents and teachers after they returned to the high school for lunch post-shopping spree.
Szpindor said a large donation by a local church also provided each child with a coat or a pair of shoes.
Additionally, the children had the opportunity to get their picture taken with Santa Claus.
“Last year, that was really touching because a lot of kids had never gotten the chance to do that before,” Szpindor said.
Szpindor said any leftover funds from the event will go into Etowah’s outreach funds, which serves students in need at the high school.
Szpindor said she got the idea for Shop with an Eagle from Kennesaw Mountain High School’s Shop with a Mustang program two years ago, as the program is popular in several Cobb County high schools.
“We haven’t had any other high schools in Cherokee commit to starting the program at their school, but we’d love to help get it started,” Szpindor said.