NORMAL — Shortly before wrapping up their fall semester, students at Illinois State University were wrapping up presents on Friday to give to needy children in Bloomington-Normal.

Friday's “wrap and pack” party at ISU's Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning in Normal was part of the Holiday Helpers program, which has been going on for about 25 years.

Students, faculty and staff sponsored 237 children, buying each about $50 in gifts based on a list of both wants and needs, explained Paige Buschman, a graduate assistant for community service projects.

Most of the gifts are bought by faculty and staff, but often two or more students will go in together to buy gifts, said Buschman.

"It's heart-warming," she said.

The presents will be distributed next week at parties for children at the Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington-Normal, the Western Avenue Community Center in Bloomington, the Unity Community Center in Normal and the Center for Youth and Family Solutions in Bloomington. The parties also are organized and led by students.

College students at other local institutions also are involved in holiday-related volunteer projects, from collecting Toys for Tots at Normal-based Heartland Community College to filling shoeboxes with gifts for Operation Christmas Child at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington.

The Holiday Helper presents are going to low-income, disadvantaged youths in the Twin Cities, “saving them (the nonprofit organizations) resources and time. That's the greater meaning behind the awesome fun of wrapping packages,” said Buschman.

Sophomore Shobhit Bhaskar, a finance and insurance major from Champaign, was volunteering with fellow members of the Acacia fraternity.

Bhaskar said he didn't have a lot of experience wrapping packages.

“My family every year would grab the presents as soon as they were under the tree,” he said, so instead of wrapping the gift, “my mom just started to hide them.”

Teagan Sudbrook, a sophomore in biology and psychology from Crystal Lake, said: “It's nice to get a break from studying and see people and get out. When I come back I can focus more.”

She was among eight student members of Circle K, a service organization tied to Kiwanis, who volunteered on Friday.

“Our three tenets are service, leadership and fellowship,” said the group's president, senior Kevin Heinrich of St. Charles.

Heinrich, majoring in exercise science and pre-physical therapy, has been involved in the organization for three years.

This was the second year that Caitlin Rinke, a junior in nursing from Joliet, has taken part.

“I like wrapping presents and I like the cause, too,” said Rinke, who was their with another member of the Alpha Delta Pi sorority.

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