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!