FWBHS Christmas Connection Helps 132 Families and 370 Children At Christmas

Christmas Connection proves to the world that teenagers are a force to be reckoned with.  For the 16th year, the leadership class at Fort Walton Beach High School has exhibited outstanding drive and effort in planning, organizing, and executing their annual Christmas Connection.  Unparalleled in enormity among the age group, Christmas Connection gives a full holiday to families all over the Emerald Coast, from Milton to South Walton and everywhere in between.  

“This year, we sponsored 132 families, which is inclusive of 370 children,” said Blane Margaretten, one of the organizers for the Christmas Connection.  “This equals $37,000 worth of Christmas presents.”

Because of the structure of the project, each and every child is cared for with their specific needs and wish lists.

Groups of about four students at Fort Walton Beach High School are directly responsible for about three families.  This way, every detail of a family’s hardship can be addressed and dealt with immediately. Over 230 students at the high school volunteered with Christmas Connection for 2013, raising funds as early as October.

The group raised over $60,000 this year which all went directly to the families.  $37,000 was spent on presents; $10,000 was spent on bikes; $6,000 in family bills that were paid; and $5,000 on bread, butter, milk, eggs, and turkeys.  The group also brought in roughly 23,000 pounds of canned and boxed food.  Dozens of beds and mattresses were donated along with couches, dressers, tables, and chairs. One family without a home was even given a place to stay for a short while.

Nothing could have been accomplished without the overwhelming support of the students at Fort Walton Beach High School and the whole of the community.  Overall, 370 children were able to eat over Winter Break and have electricity on in their home.  They could sleep on a mattress for possibly the first time and now have a bike they call their own.

“With Christmas Connection, the way we get our money, we have two group fundraisers with everyone in the class – Wal-Mart Bagging and Chow Down,” said Tyler Margaretten, the other organizer of this year’s Christmas Connection.  “Those are very successful.  We raised about $8,000 from those.  All of the other money is left up to the students to raise by doing basic grass roots marketing – going out into the community, speaking with businesses, and explaining Christmas Connection to donors.”

Tyler and Blane took it upon themselves to elevate this project to a whole other level last year by hosting a private charity wine tasting fundraiser separate from the school and class fundraisers.  In its second year, they have raised over $9,000 for Christmas Connection.

When asked what one of their most memorable moments was while participating in Christmas Connection, Tyler had this to say, “One of the families I was directly in charge of last year, had nine kids and two adults and their oldest son had died and the hospital bills had left them homeless and carless.  They were living in a hotel and through the project we were able to move them into a house that was supposed to be fully furnished, but it was not.  So we took it upon ourselves to get beds for everyone in the house so they did not have to sleep on the tile floor.  When bringing in those beds for those children, the look on the mother’s face was the best moment hands down in all Christmas Connections.”

“Thank you for all of your help; whether it was collecting cans (in your class or club), donating your money, or donating your time,” said Kevin Schmidt, Fort Walton Beach High School’s Leadership Class Sponsor.  “With the help of the entire school and community, we were all able to help 132 families with 370 children.  Roughly 75% of these families are families in our area that feed into FWBHS, and a lot are already here at FWBHS.”

In a thank you card received from one family who received assistance, they wrote “The Bible teaches us that charity is love… My children no longer believe in the little fat man in a red suit, but they do believe that when people give from their hearts, it shows love. When one gives from the heart, they are angels, and we call these angels….. Santa Claus!!!”

Article co-written with Tyler and Blane Margaretten who are Seniors at Fort Walton Beach High School.