Columbus Academy students are learning a lesson about giving this holiday season.

Columbus Academy students are learning a lesson about giving this holiday season.

For more than 25 years, students, teachers and family members from both the upper and lower schools have joined together to support local needy families from the Childhood League Center and Columbus City Schools' Siebert Elementary School on Reinhard Avenue for their holiday project.

This year, the school is sponsoring 32 families by providing them with meals, clothing, toys and other gifts.

The donations were scheduled to be delivered to the families over the weekend.

Christy Bening, a Latin teacher at the upper school who oversees the school's service-requirement program, said this year's holiday project began in mid-October with a food drive and trick-or-treating for cans at Halloween.

"We ask each child or each member of the community to donate 10 nonperishable food items, and we actually are pretty specific about the things we want -- things we can make into meals," she said.

At the end of the food drive two weeks ago, staff and volunteers set up a makeshift store for academy families to design meals from the food donations.

She said the staff members know the demographics of families so they can tailor their donations to the families' needs.

"They shop as if they were shopping for this family to make a week's worth of meals for them," Bening said. "Most kids don't know about how to construct a meal and make sure the meal is balanced."

Bening said the students also participate in two different shopping days at the Meijer store on Hamilton Road to purchase perishable items, such as milk and potatoes, as well as things like underwear and socks, for the families. Each sponsoring classroom shops on a budget that each designs as a class.

"It's very fun for them and very interesting," Bening said.

The Columbus Academy community also organized a clothing and toy drive two weeks ago to collect winter coats and clothes as well as books, bikes and other gifts for the children and their families.

On top of what they collected, New Albany-based Tween Brands also donated $1,000 for the school to buy new gifts for the children at its Justice stores.

"Thanksgiving makes good sense for us," Bening said. "When people are actually in need of food is June, July and August. What we're more concerned about is making sure kids have winter stuff."

The completed meals and gifts then were delivered to specific classrooms that chose to sponsor and oversee the wishes of one of the 32 families.

Bening said the classroom is where students learn about and discuss the people they help through their holiday project.

Bening said the school has two primary goals with the project.

"One is, we want to meet the needs and the requests of the family, and the other is for the kids to have a discussion of what is need, what is want, what are you willing to do (for others)," Bening said. "It's meant to spur discussion about a month of moments -- all sorts of opportunities to talk about what people don't have and what people do have and why."

She said each teacher takes the classroom portion into his or her own hands.

"It's very specific to the sponsoring group and how they want to do it," she said. "If I have that conversation with my students, it will be very different than the conversation you have. It's really tailored to how you want to discuss it. It should be open ended."

A caravan lined up at Columbus Academy on Nov. 21 to deliver the school's donations to the Childhood League Center. The groups were expected to deliver donations to Siebert Elementary School on Monday.

Academy senior Mia Wise, president of the service board that helps organize the holiday project, said the project allows Academy students to be exposed to situations they normally would not experience.

"That is really an eye-opening experience," said Wise, 17. "As a student who goes to Columbus Academy, I'm not exposed to that kind of living every day. It's really rewarding."

She said she hopes to continue the love of service she has learned at the academy when she graduates in the spring.

"It's a great way to keep every student involved and make them want to do this when then graduate," Wise said. "It definitely benefits every student."

gmartineau@thisweeknews.com