State College School District’s sweet treats make holiday brighter

With a name like Rudolph Burruss, Christmas wasn’t his favorite holiday.

He said “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” jokes were plentiful, but he did enjoy the family gatherings and traditions that go along with the holidays.

Now known as Rudy, the instructional paraprofessional for special needs at the State College Area School District said the annual cookie bag collection around the district is what makes his holiday brighter.

“We do it out of the kindness of our hearts and to help bring families together,” Burruss said. “We see this firsthand. While on the surface it may appear that State College is a wealthy community, there are many children and families who are struggling. We see things each day in our public schools.”

For at least 20 years, the support staff from the school district has made special holiday bags filled with baked goods. Bags are filled with a box of hot cocoa, sugar cookie mix, frosting, sprinkles and cookie cutters, Burruss said.

On Thursday, those bags were collected and brought to the Food Bank of the State College Area to be distributed to needy families around the county.

“Oh my heavens, is it one of the best gifts we receive,” said Carol Pioli, executive director of the food bank.

Those cookie bags will be used as part of a special Christmas distribution this year, she said.

“It’s really overwhelming, and we’re so appreciative of the support we get from the school district,” Pioli said. “We’re excited, and our clients are extremely ecstatic about it. Making cookies as a family is one of those holiday traditions that naturally brings everyone together.”

This year as part of an annual community project, students in the school district’s Wild Dream Team program, which helps students with disabilities create an independent life, traveled to each school and collected more than 380 bags.

The collection began Monday and ended Thursday, and the bags will serve one family apiece. Burruss said that every school in the district participated.

On Thursday, seven students made the trip to Mount Nittany Middle School, where they collected dozens more bags and were able to mingle with old teachers.

For students Corey Fike, 15, and Rachel Wolf, 15, being able to help the community they live in is the most rewarding aspect.

“I like to help the community,” said Fike, a freshman.

“We learn a lot about community involvement, and now we’re able to help,” Wolf said.

Secretaries and paraprofessionals who are members of the State College Educational Support Personnel Association have spent the past few months collecting ingredients and other items to make holiday cookies and bags for needy families, said Lucy Harlow, Pennsylvania State Education Association central region communications advocacy coordinator.

This is the first year students from the Wild Dream Team were a part of the project, she said. Each year, those students are encouraged to volunteer in a community project.

“It’s overwhelming the response we get with this,” Harlow said.

But the goal each year is to spread holiday tradition to families around the county.

“We pride this campaign on family tradition,” Burruss said. “It’s this time of year where families gather to make cookies and cutouts. Some people don’t have the means to do that, so we do the best we can to provide the necessities.”