The Union Grove Middle School girls choir poses with some of the toys, books and clothes raised for Killeen ISD's homeless student program in time for Christmas. Numerous schools, churches and other organizations raised enough this year to give away about 800 toys to students and family members.

The tightly knit 125 members of the Union Grove Middle School choir extended their family to serve others, and they’re not the only ones in the Killeen Independent School District with a giving spirit.

At Union Grove, sixth- through eighth-grade choir members and a smattering of others in the school filled 10 boxes with books and another several boxes with stuffed toys and 100 pairs of socks.

The goods will help fill the district’s community clothes closet for homeless students and family members, part of a program called the Homeless Awareness Response Program.

“When they found out how many kids in our district don’t have a home, they were taken by it,” choir director Deborah Barrick said.

“It made me sad,” eighth-grader Sierra Ciesiolka said. “I felt like all kids should get something for Christmas.”

With each donation, the school added paper links to a red-and-green chain that circles the atrium at the center of the school building where four hallways meet.

“I was happy I could help some kids have a better Christmas,” eighth-grader Caitlin Dunnells said.

Barrick said she hoped the donations would allow the program to provide all homeless students with a book and a stuffed toy for Christmas.

Christina Wilson, Killeen ISD educator for homeless services, said many schools have come forward with donated toys, as well as clothes and food.

Metroplex Hospital provided donations, and numerous area churches donated food, toys and other items.

Iduma Elementary School filled 70 boxes of donated food items.

Harker Heights High School came up with 40 toys for families needing gifts for children. Cheerleaders at the school added more food and clothes to the closet.

“It’s been amazing,” Wilson said. “Students have been very generous.”

Four years ago when HARP first requested toys for students, the program came up with 100 toys. This year, HARP will distribute close to 800.

Early next year, HARP plans to officially open its community closet.

A mural is coming to life on the small structure at Rancier Avenue and 12th Street, which will house the closet.

Every school in the district will maintain a voucher system, with a coordinator determining eligibility.

Volunteers are lining up to help operate the closet, which will maintain hours at least twice a week.

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