Classes skip holiday gift exchange to give instead

With Christmas approaching, most children are looking forward to the items that they’ll receive underneath the tree.

But for a group of students at Southwest Elementary School in Greenwood, it was more important to focus on giving instead.

The fifth-grade classes, as well as other grades at Southwest, decided to skip their annual gift exchange this year. Instead, they donated sets of Lego toys to go to sick children at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. The students brought in more than 100 sets for the drive.

“It’s humbling whenever you see kids be generous and giving. They teach you things that you should be doing on your own,” said Becki Habig, a fifth-grade teacher at Southwest. “It made me really happy to see them do something like this.”

The drive was in honor of Cooper Davis, a 12-year-old Greenwood resident and former student at Southwest. Cooper was diagnosed with leukemia in July and has been receiving intensive treatment for the disease for the past five months.

He has spent weeks at a time at Riley Hospital.

So when the students at Southwest wanted to do something meaningful this holiday season, they came to Habig with an idea for patients at Riley.

“Cooper was in my class last year, and we knew Cooper was a huge ‘Star Wars’ and Lego fan, so the kids decided to do this instead of their normal toy exchange,” Habig said.

They decided to donate Lego sets through an effort by the philanthropy Team JOEY. The organization was founded in honor of Joey Keller, a former Riley patient who died of a malignant brain tumor in 2012.

Joey’s memory lives on with the group, which raises money for pediatric cancer research. Because Joey loved playing with LEGO toys, the group also collects sets to distribute to children receiving treatment for cancer at Riley Hospital.

During the past month, students started bringing in the toy sets one or two at a time. The pile in Habig’s classroom grew larger, until dozens of Legos had been donated.

“They were so excited to give them to me, and so happy,” Habig said. “We talked a lot about the faces of kids who would receive them, and we should have that in our head when we go shopping for these gifts.”

Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2727.