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Holiday Giving Program Exemplifies Gilbert’s Generosity, Community Pride

Thank You Families, Students, and Mrs. Woodin!

Sam McDaniel-Rold knows how lucky she is, even as she sits slumped in a chair inside the Gilbert High School conference room Tuesday morning. The senior basketball player is only three days removed from suffering an injury during a game at Mason City on Saturday and yet she’s smiling.

Teammate and classmate Carolyn Koenig has a grin on her face too as she sits to the left of Sam. Both girls enjoy the holiday season, but it’s as much about giving back as it is receiving. Maybe even more.

’Tis the season here at Gilbert.

Sam and Carolyn are part of a girls’ basketball senior class — alongside Ava Henningsen, Julianne Lundvall, Grace Barragy, Abigail Dies, Raney Kruse, Sydney Lynch, Johnna Rotto, Ava Johnson, and Addie Pink — that is leading the team’s mission to give back to families in need this holiday season.

“We’re all very fortunate and we know that,” Sam said. “We want to do something for those that are not as fortunate, especially during this time. It’s good for us to help out our community and do our part.”

Carolyn echoes those sentiments.

“I think it’s really important because it gives us a really good way to engage with our community,” she said. “It’s a good team-builder too. I don’t know the freshmen very well because they practice at a different time than we do, so it’s good to get to know them while also doing a good thing to benefit the community.”

In conjunction with Gilbert CSD’s Holiday Giving Program, which is shepherded by Student and Family Advocate Mel Woodin, the girls’ basketball team put together 33 snack bags for 31 families in need across the district. The team raised part of the funds for the project from the Achieve Challenge Scrimmage against Cedar Rapids Kennedy late last month, and the rest comes from donations by the players and their families.

The 34 players and managers on the roster split into 11 groups and went shopping Tuesday evening. They loaded up on all of their favorite snacks — both nutritious and not so much — to give to the families for over the Christmas break. Goldfish crackers, popcorn and chocolates were among the things Sam and Carolyn were sure to fill their bags with when they discussed the shopping excursion.

And who doesn’t like to shop? But, truthfully, the excitement from both girls came from the idea that they get to help. It’s what had the entire team excited about the adventure.

“It’s really empowering to go out with your teammates and to know you are helping to make a family’s Christmas season better,” Sam said. “It helps you reflect on your own life and what you have, and it brings us all together as a team.”

The Holiday Giving Program is more than a decade old at Gilbert, and it never fails to bring tears to the eyes of Woodin, who works tirelessly to make sure families in need have a memorable Christmas. This year there are 83 children from the 31 families who will benefit from the program.

“It helps to take the weight off of those parents and that’s everything,” Woodin said. “And they are so grateful. The families are grateful and the people who are donating are so grateful too that they can give back.

“I’ve been crying all day. I’m a hot mess, but that’s just me. I just feel so grateful for so many reasons. One, that we live in a community that is so giving and so caring. But, also, how cool is it that this is my job to be able to organize this? That’s awesome.”

The program began many years ago with the Boy Scouts, an organization that continues to take part to this day by sponsoring multiple families.

In October, Woodin sent out an email district wide to families asking if they would like to help with the program this year. Families had the option to sponsor an entire family or an individual child, or they could give gift-wrapping supplies or gift cards. And it’s all anonymous. The helping families don’t know who they’re sponsoring, and the families in need don’t know the identity of those helping.

Woodin says they ask the families that need support four things with regards to their children — what is a need, what is a want, what is their favorite color, and what is their favorite candy? From there, the helping families take over.

A conservative estimate puts the value of all of the goods purchased at $15,000, and that includes more than 80 gift cards from places like Fareway, Walmart and Target, among others. In addition to the toys, games, clothes and other items, each family will also receive a gift card.

Woodin is in charge of organizing the deliveries. She will also be present when each family picks up the items to take home and wrap for their children. It’s not easy work, but there’s nothing that’s more fulfilling.

“It’s just so great,” she said.

Gilbert Superintendent Dr. Christine Trujillo has watched as items were delivered to the school on a daily basis over the past few weeks, and she marvels at the generosity and sense of community that wafts over the schools’ hallways.

“The Gilbert School District is such an incredible place where we all take care of each other,” Dr. Trujillo said. “One of the gifts I see over and over is how this community supports our school district. It’s wonderful to see how our community gives back to our families, but also how our families help contribute to the work that we do here.”

If you are a family that may need extra support in the future, or if you are a family that would like to help support others in the future, Woodin says you can reach out to her at any time. You can contact her at

Thank you, Gilbert community. You continue to lift our students, staff and families up each and every day with your support and generosity. Happy Holidays to all of you!


GHS Sophomore Abigail Randall Takes Sugar Cookies And Makes Art

There’s a story out there that says the first sugar cookie was made in the Middle East … 1,300 years ago! As for when the delicious treat reached our borders in North America, that dates back three centuries to the Pennsylvania area.

And today it’s how Gilbert High School sophomore Abigail Randall is making a little bit of spending money as she heads into the holiday season.

Sounds fun and pretty easy, right? It is fun, Abigail says, but her finished products are anything but easy. In actuality, they’re really works of art, and art takes time.

As someone who enjoys art and has a knack for detail, decorating sugar cookies comes naturally to Abigail. And as it turns out, there’s a nice-sized market for impeccably frosted sugar cookies during the holidays.

“I’ve seen cute cookies on my Pinterest feed and I thought, I could do that,” Abigail says. “I’m not in any art classes right now, but this kind of thing has always come naturally to me. Paying attention to detail is part of my personality.”

Knowing her daughter needed some money to help pay for her car, LeeAnn Randall came up with the idea of selling sugar cookies to those with a sweet tooth. With a clever post on Facebook, a small business was in place and the orders began to flood in.

“I’ve always liked (making) sugar cookies and frosting them with my family, and some friends of my mom had some and said, ‘Oh my gosh, these are so amazing!’ Really? Are you sure they are? That’s what I said, but my mom said this would be a great way to earn money. So that’s where we’re at.”

A few cookies here and there has quickly turned into a little more work than Abigail originally envisioned. Early in the venture, she says it took upwards of 10 minutes to frost each cookie, but as the orders have increased — when she sat down to talk, she had the stress of getting 60 cookies ready for a client in a few days — so has her productivity. She’s since switched to an assembly line type system that takes less time. Now she can handle 20 cookies in two hours.

“I’m getting a lot of requests, which is very unexpected,” Abigail says. “I told my mom she has to say no to some of this because I don’t have enough time. But I’m grateful for my family, specifically my mom for helping me so much.”

And if you think Abigail is handing off her frosting duties to family members to save time, well, think again. Her cookies are unique to her artistic abilities.

“I can’t give away cookies that I’m not proud of,” she says with a chuckle.

So what is it about Abigail’s cookies that makes them so popular? Well, just look at them! Her Christmas tree design is flawless, and she can make a cookie look better than even a professional’s perfectly-wrapped present. Her talent is obvious through the various designs.

Taking a hobby and making it lucrative shows ingenuity, but that’s what it is — a hobby.

“It’s a nice way to earn some money and you can get a lot of money off sugar cookies apparently,” Abigail says.

Abigail sells her cookies through her mom’s Facebook page. The cost is six cookies for $15, or $25 for a dozen cookies. So if you’re looking for something to brighten up your holiday display …


Staff Development Day benefits students

With students enjoying a three-day weekend, Gilbert’s teachers were in their buildings and hard at work during Monday’s Staff Development Day.

Collaboration. Reflection. Brainstorming. Creativity. More than 100 teachers had the day to do all of the above and so much more in an effort to enhance the educational opportunities for our students.

“Professional development days are important for us to remember what our ‘why’ is, and our why is our students,” Carrie Clark, Gilbert’s Director of Teaching, Learning, and Leadership, said. “With anything in life, reflection is very important, and so we have to ask: Are we on the right path? Is this where we want our students to be? Teachers have to have time to sit and think about the important work they do to move forward.”

Educators worked side-by-side to discuss the essential standards in their classrooms throughout the morning session. In each class, running the gamut from general science to physics, each student needs to learn and develop a specific set of skills that enables him or her to not only thrive, but advance. Deciphering priorities that allows students to reach those goals is a key part of essential standards.

Teachers worked in grade level or department groups and occasionally across buildings throughout the morning.

In the afternoon, teachers worked more independently to build specific goals for themselves and their classes.

Staff development days are essential to the growth of our district, both for our staff members and students who reap the benefits from the work. It’s what helps makes Gilbert, well, Gilbert. Thank you teachers for doing the work and being dedicated to always putting your students first. It does not go unnoticed.


Gilbert Community School District

Gilbert Community School District

103 Mathews Drive, Gilbert, Iowa 50105  |  (515) 232-3740