A bunch of District 201 students are going to have a much happier holiday thanks to their classmates and teachers.

A number of initiatives organized by students and teachers at Belleville East and Belleville West have collected thousands of dollars which will be used to put presents under trees of needy families across the district.

Belleville West teacher and Dance Team coach Lisa Quandt said, “It’s inspiring to see the enthusiasm teens have to help their peers.”

“Once our students hear some of the stories about what people in our school may be going through, they are eager to help and you really see them show empathy,” Quandt said. “It really becomes ‘the season of giving.’  Year after year I am proud of what we accomplish together.”

Jason Karstens, principal at Belleville East, said his students and staff members have raised more than $18,000 through the school’s Make a Change program and other initiatives created to help less fortunate classmates. Students will be given gift cards to Kohl’s department store in Fairview Heights. They’ll ride in a limo to the store where they will use the gift cards to purchase a few items.

“They can get whatever they want, clothes, gadgets…anything,” Karstens said. “But, usually, they end up buying gifts for their family instead of just picking out some things for themselves. It’s very heartwarming to see a kid who has a rare opportunity to buy whatever they want think about mom and dad or their brother or sister first.”

There are contests to see which classroom can raise the most money with the winners earning a bagel and donut party. Students have organized charity sports events to raise cash and the teachers’ union has donated $1,000 each to the East and West campuses. Many teachers also donate through payroll deduction throughout the year to help less fortunate District 201 families, according to Karstens.

At Belleville West, where the primary fundraiser is called West Helping West, students collected household supplies in addition to cash, according to Quandt.

“For example, Varsity Cheer collected shampoo and conditioner, the Student Council collected deodorant, Speech and Acting collected toothbrushes and toothpaste,” Quandt said. “These are things that will help students and their families not just during the holidays but throughout the entire year.”

Karstens said he hopes the students who donate their time and money to needier families get as much of a benefit as the people they help.

“It’s an incredible feeling to be able to pitch in and be part of such a positive thing,” Karstens said. “It’s wonderful to see that you can make a difference for the better.”