BENNINGTON -- Over 100 Bennington children will receive Christmas gifts that they otherwise wouldn't have this year, thanks to the students and staff of Mount Anthony Union High School who chose to participate in the annual Helping Hands project.

This year marks the sixth year that the high school has participated in the project, which encourages the MAUHS community to "adopt" -- or purchase items off of the holiday wish lists of -- local needy families.

According to Principal Sue Maguire, 25 families with a total of 114 children -- from Molly Stark Elementary and The Village School of North Bennington -- were adopted this year.

Maguire said administrators at each elementary school determined needy families and then forwarded information about each family, including the number of family members, and the ages and genders of the children, to Christina Gabrus, the MAUHS office manager and organizer of the project.

Information pertaining to each family was then transcribed onto small paper gingerbread men and displayed in the school hallway shortly after Thanksgiving, during which time teachers, faculty, and students, both individually and those of sports teams and school clubs, chose the family or families they would be adopting for the holiday season.

According to McGuire, even students and faculty from the neighboring Career Development Center took part in the project, which in turn yielded a total of approximately 180 participants -- about 150 students and 30 teachers in all.

Gabrus explained that wish list items varied from family to family, but popular items included warm winter clothes and boots, books, and of course, toys.

Under the guidance of Spanish Teacher Carmela Kovage, juniors Baylee Ports and Victoria Medvedev, and senior Kyle Strubel, adopted a family along with their fellow MAUHS Spanish Honor Society members.

According to Kovage, the group did not have a large budget, so a family with only two children was chosen.

Medvedev and Ports said they enjoyed shopping for the family, purchasing both practical clothing items and toys, like dolls for the children.

"It was a good way to get in the holiday spirit," Medvedev said of the project.

Strubel, who wrapped all of the gifts, said the project was meaningful in more ways than one.

"It was eye-opening," he said. "We helped out the kids by getting them the presents they wanted, but we also helped out the parents by getting the gifts and wrapping them so they didn't have that weight on their shoulders."

Senior Courtney Gabrus, Christina Gabrus' daughter, said she and her lacrosse teammates adopted two families this year.

According to Gabrus, each team member donated between three and five dollars to the cause.

Thursday evening, Gabrus went shopping with the team's two captains to buy everything on both of their family's lists, which included toys and clothes.

"I love doing this," Gabrus said, explaining that she participated in the project during each of her four high school years, and in earlier years with her mother.

According to Christina Gabrus, all of the wrapped gifts will be dropped off to the local families this week.

Both Gabrus and Maguire encourage community members and local businesses interested in participating in next year's Helping Hands project to contact them for information.

"I would like to see this turn into a bigger community thing. It started off kind of organically and has grown over the years and I'd like to see it continue to grow," Maguire said. "Our business is children, so really, all we want is for them to have a good holiday."

Maguire and Gabrus can be reached at 802-447-7511.

Contact Elizabeth A. Conkey at or follow her on Twitter @bethconkey.