Holidays for Little Huskers will bring tidings of comfort and joy to University of Nebraska–Lincoln families heading into the season of giving.
The program offers a chance to brighten the holidays for the youngest Huskers through gift donations. Donor Jennifer Dush, administrative coordinator in the Department of Animal Science, said it is a way to support student parents during what can be a stressful time of year.
“It shows they matter, that we care,” she said. “We are a community that looks out for our own.”
Nebraska students who have children can sign up to receive gifts for the holidays. They fill out a wish list with things like toys or clothing for their child or children and can also include an item for themselves. Then faculty, staff and community members can sign up to sponsor a child or children and purchase items for their list.
This year, 138 children are signed up for the program, which organizer Domonique Cudjo, assistant director of the Gender and Sexuality Center, said is the largest number since the program began. She said the 116 donors who have signed up is also the largest number of donors.
She said faculty and staff see some of these students every day and are happy to contribute to making the holidays a memorable experience for kids in the university community.
“It’s a chance to connect with students in a different way,” Cudjo said. “Some of the donors really are excited and enthusiastic about going out and getting the gifts and having a chance to do something fun for the holidays and being able to give back in some way to kiddos and families.”
Dush started participating as a donor in 2020 and now helps organize a drive for the Department of Animal Science. This year the department is sponsoring five children. Faculty and staff will bring toys to the department office, where they are sorted into boxes by child.
Dush said she sends messages regularly to make sure every item on each child’s list is purchased, and participation has grown each of the three years the department has participated. The most common items on lists include coats and shoes, as well as toys, she said. In addition to a wish list, donors receive some fun background on the children, like that they like Lego. Even though the children are anonymous to donors, the extra background is not only helpful, but fun, Dush said.
“Everyone really gets into that,” she said. “It gives it that more personalized experience.”
Dush said easing some of the burden, especially heading into both finals and the holidays, can help student parents who are trying to juggle many responsibilities personally and academically.
“You want the students to not have all those worries so they can concentrate on school,” she said. “If you’re having to worry about not having money to give your kid the Christmas you want, that doesn’t help with their ability to finish out the semester strong.”
Cudjo said students face numerous challenges outside the classroom that can affect their academic career, and being a parent or guardian can affect a student’s ability to attend class or focus on assignments.
“We have students who are taking on a lot of responsibilities outside of the classroom while trying to manage being academically successful,” Cudjo said.
Some of the children are old enough to understand where the gifts come from, she said, and she’s heard from student parents that the children who are aware were appreciative that someone was helping their family.
Cudjo said this kind of support for student parents shows them the university cares about them as a complete person and there are people in the community who want to assist them on the road to success.
“We want to make sure they know we are here,” Cudjo said. “We’re here to support them. They know the university cares or that folks who work here care, not only about them academically, but as individuals.”
Gift pickup is 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 4-8 in room 340 of the Gender and Sexuality Center at the Nebraska Union.