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A group of students with their collection of gifts.

The Frontier Hall "toy crew" and their three carts of Christmas presents for the Ronald McDonald House.

Secret student Santas

By Pauline Oo

December 16, 2005; updated December 19, 2005

Kathleen is only four years old, but she knows what she wants for Christmas. The Ronald McDonald House resident will get her "dress-up clothes" thanks to University of Minnesota senior Amanda Hemmingsen.

On Friday (December 16) afternoon, Hemmingsen and several students from Frontier Hall on the Twin Cities campus in Minneapolis delivered three moving carts-full of gifts to the Ronald McDonald House, just a stone's throw away from the Oak Street residence hall. The house, which opened in 1979, provides a home-away-from-home for families from around the world with children who have life-threatening illnesses. Up to 48 families can live in the house at any one time, and the average length of stay is 28 days. (Most of the children are seeking or recovering from medical treatment at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview.)

"Lat year, when I was a community advisor [for one of Frontier Hall's five "houses"], I thought a gift collection would be a cool thing to do," says Hemmingsen, who is majoring in a genetic cell biology and development. "It went over really well. We collected 16 gifts, and we all thought the effort was really rewarding."

So this year, Hemmingsen decided to expand the drive. She sought gifts from all the students in Frontier Hall, not just those in one house, and from students in the U's Admissions Ambassadors program, who lead tours and host prospective students and parents on campus.

Unlike other drives, which leave the choice of gift up to the donor, Hemmingsen's collection required students to register. Those who did were then given a gift tag, complete with a child's name and the gift he or she wanted, and the students were told to spend between $10 and $20 for the gift.

"I had 140 people sign up, and we collected about 110 to 112 gifts for the kids in the house, whose ages range from 6 months to 18 years old," says Hemmingsen. The gifts, which included Barbie dolls, toy fire-trucks, CDs, and sweatshirts, will be distributed to the children on Christmas eve.

"We used to idolize Santa Claus and get excited when he brought us presents for Christmas," says Hemmingsen. "Now it's a role reversal. [We're] being Santa, giving these kids this excitement on Christmas." And helping out the parents who may be feeling the financial pinch of having a very sick child, she adds.

To learn more about the Ronald McDonald House, visit the Web site.