BY KAREN CAMPBELL
Weakley County Schools Communications Director
DRESDEN (December 16) – Summer Di Pietro says she feels like the Christmas season begins when she and her fellow Beta Club members open up the Dresden Middle School Lions’ Den Christmas Store. Though this year’s chance for students to spend the “bucks” they earn for good grades and good behavior included lots of adjustments for COVID-19 precautions, she and fellow 8th-grader Allie Spaulding agree, the tradition is both fun and rewarding.
Launched in 2011 by then-coach and now-retired Leigh Avery Hart and counselor Jamie Rickman, the store serves as a means for the middle school-ers to purchase rewards for themselves and/or gifts for others. In previous years, that meant a day filled with classes streaming into the school gymnasium, selecting items from tables laden with everything from stuffed animals to small appliances for the kitchen and scores of volunteers wrapping and fluffing tissue paper for gift bags.
2020 brought lots of changes.
Rickman took on the bulk of the purchases, shopping for eight weeks prior and spending all of Thanksgiving weekend moving from Dollar General Store to Dollar General Store. She visited 12 that day to take advantage of sale items, spent Friday at Walmart and Bed, Bath and Beyond and returned to the discount stores for toys on Saturday.
To accommodate social distancing, the event was spread out from one day to two with only one class at a time shopping and outside volunteers were not utilized this year.
The Beta Club committee assumed the role of not only planners for the event but also store stockers, wrappers, and assistants to the store clerk Heath Rogers who is usually teaching 6th-grade math and social studies.
“Everything was different this year,” noted Spaulding. “I was afraid we weren’t going to get to do it.”
“We’ve been working on this for a while,” added Di Pietro. “I’m thankful. I was afraid we were going to shut down.”
The number of students and staff in either isolation or quarantine has risen since returning from Thanksgiving; however, with the committee’s dedication and Rickman’s longtime experience and direction, even the COVID Grinch could not steal Christmas.
In fact, Rickman says she spent significantly less this year, only around $4000, to stock the store’s shelves because community donations were so high.
“Each time we get to offer the students a bit of normalcy in this year of the pandemic, we are obviously pleased,” said Randy Frazier, director of Weakley County Schools. “It’s great to hear how these students stepped in and helped make it happen.”
Rickman said the store will remain set up to offer those students currently in quarantine the chance to do some post-holiday shopping.
While masks and social distancing were obviously factors in the Lions’ Den this year, students like Di Pietro and Spaulding are taking the safety measures in stride.
“The protocols have become normal,” said Di Pietro.
“I almost feel like I’m naked without my mask when I’m at home,” said Spaulding.”
Frazier says his hopes are for students to become role models for their families when it comes to the protocols, “We need to keep in mind we can continue to enjoy more activities in the spring as we stay safe during the winter break.”