Having a blast for charity

Hundreds of Southwest High School students spent their last day of school before the holiday break caroling and ringing bells for the less fortunate at various shopping locations around the Twin Cities.

The charitable activity was part of the school’s annual Blast Day, an event that has students raise money for the Salvation Army.

In the morning, students met in the school gymnasium and paired off into groups that soon scattered to various shopping locations, including the Southdale Center, Mall of America, the Ridgedale Center and the Burnsville Center.  

“We are going to sing our hearts out and ring our bells,” said Judy Hawkins, a vocational specialist at Southwest High School, right before the Blast Day kick off.

“My hope is that the students realize how fun it is to give,” said Southwest High School teacher Holli Hoffman.

The event has had success in the past, with Southwest High School students raising approximately $6,400 in 2006 in the two hours spent ringing bells and singing carols outside retail stores. One person made a donation of $5,000 last year on top of what was raised.

According to Student Council Advisor Ed Roche, Blast Day has been happening for around 20 years.

“It came from the students, from the student council,” Roche said. “Students volunteer to do this.”   

Blast Day is popular among students, but not everyone shows up for it.

“A lot of them stay home,” said 9th-grader Marcel Ingram, who was in the Mall of America group. “I don’t see why they would. I was looking forward to it all week — I knew it was coming since Monday.”

Students in the Mall of America group kicked off the two hours of fundraising after gathering at the north garden entrance near Nordstorm.

“We’ve had at least five [donations] in the first 10 minutes,” Ingram said after his group got in action.

Teachers coordinating the event walked around assigned stations to check on the students and make sure there were no problems.

“I’m making a list and checking it twice,” said Joan Schoenecker, a 9th-grade science teacher.  “At most of the places, I see kids are being really nice and having a lot of fun; and it’s going by fast."

Some of the groups furthered the holiday festivity by greeting each passerby and singing holiday carols. 

Ninth-grader Kymberlee Franklin, whose group was stationed in the skyway above West Market street, alternated between saying “Please help the less fortunate,” and “A dollar goes a long way,” to each shopper as her group loudly chanted “Jingle Bells,” raising smiles from shoppers walking by, even those choosing not to donate.

Each person in Franklin’s group thanked donators by wishing them happy holidays and a merry Christmas.

“It’s a change of experience,” said Grace LoVoir, an educational support professional who went with the Southdale Center group. “It’s a way to get our kids out in the community and just have fun.”