‘Tis the season for helping those in need

Imagine you’re a child waking up on Christmas morning. You excitedly run out to the tree to see what gifts await you, only to find none. No new toys to play with, no new stuffed animals to hug, not even new clothes to wear.

Jimmy Stickley, a sports marketing and economics teacher at Louisa County High School, knows exactly how that feels. One Christmas when he was young, he woke up to find no presents under his Christmas tree.

“My heart just dropped,” he said. “I’ll never forget that feeling.”

Fortunately, Stickley had simply gotten his dates mixed up, mistaking Christmas Eve for Christmas Day. He had presents waiting for him the next morning, but for many children, that feeling is very real every year. 

And, for the last several years, Stickley has attempted to take that feeling away from as many people as possible, organizing a toy drive for the community. 

This year’s drive turned out to be the most successful one yet. Beginning the week of Thanksgiving and running through Dec. 6, more than 2,400 toys, books and clothes were collected in Stickley’s classroom at the high school. 

“It exceeds my expectations sometimes, but [Louisa] is a great community and they get things done,” he said. “I don’t expect anything less.”

The bulk of this year’s donations came, as they often do, toward the end of the drive, including more than 900 items dropped off by high school dual enrollment teacher Walter Chaney’s class on the final morning of the drive.

“The whole class came down and they were singing Christmas carols,” Stickley said. “I was almost in tears when they came in.”

Stickley has organized toy drives for more than 10 years and not just here in Louisa, but at other high schools where he’s worked, including Harrisonburg, Luray and William Monroe high schools. He wasn’t able to do the drive during the years following the earthquake due to the lack of space in the trailers used while the high school was being renovated and medical issues prevented him from continuing for the first few years in the new school. Over the last three years, however, the toy drive has been held to great success.

Stickley uses the toy drive, not just as a way to encourage students to give back to the community, but to teach his students lessons about marketing and promotion.

“This is promotion at its finest,” he said. “I give them the information, but in their own creativity, they make the posters and flyers. I do some goofy announcements in the mornings and try to make it fun...If you think outside the box, sometimes you get better results.”

As an incentive to get as many donations as possible, the class that donated the most items won a pizza party. Even with the potential reward, Stickley feels that the students get the right message from the toy drive.

“Overall, I think they understand that the giving part is good,” he said. “We really preach that and I think the kids really buy into it, and the staff does too.”

As the donations come in, Stickley’s class helps organize and sanitize the items to get them ready to be donated. 

“It’s nice to be able to help out and know that these gifts are going to have an impact on someone in the community,” said Logan Yancey, a senior in Stickley’s sports marketing class. “[Louisa] is a very tight-knit community so it’s nice to be able to help.”

This year’s drive didn’t just collect toys and other items for children. Students also collected clothes, small stuffed animals and personal items for nursing home residents in the area. Stickley coordinated with the high school’s nursing teachers to know what items to collect.

“This is a great community and great communities help each other,” Stickley said. “I’ve seen that in Louisa as long as I’ve been here. This is a first-rate place to be.”

The items were collected on Dec. 8 and will be distributed throughout the community to families who need them throughout the holiday season.

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