This will be Schildkraut’s fourth year contributing to families impacted by gun violence as part of her Cards for Kids campaign – a project she started in 2017 following the Las Vegas shooting and has continued participating yearly since.
“I can remember where I was when Columbine happened -- I was actually a freshman in college,” she said. “When Virginia Tech happened in 2007, I felt I needed to do something, I really didn’t know what that was. I ended up going back to school the following semester and then pursuing my education all the way through from finishing my bachelor’s to getting my master’s and my Ph.D.”
In 2017 when she launched the campaign she collected just over 2,300 -- a number that has continued to grow exponentially over the years.
Then, she subsequently collected cards the following Valentine’s Day, receiving around 1,500, she recalls.
“The Christmas season 2018 we had right around 9,500, and then this past year in 2019 we collected nearly 11,000,” Schildkraut said. “It’s growing every year, which is awesome – we get contributors from all across the country and we even get some as far away as Hawaii.”
Schildkraut has also received contributors from Canada.
On campus last year, she had around 150 individual contributions between students and faculty at Oswego. School districts also had classes or groups get together to contribute even more.
The changing conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic means less in-person and more digital collection.
Schildkraut says the effort provides cards to 16 different communities at this point. There are two ways in which the cards go out -- “personalized cards,” written to specific children, or general ones distributed among the many recipients.
“We really focused in on the kids who have lost parents, grandparents, siblings or other relatives in one of these shootings,” she said. “The personalized cards go to kids whose family members were killed either in Las Vegas, Parkland, Florida, or Aurora, Illinois.”
Back in 2017, Tanya Pekes -- a survivor of the Las Vegas shooting -- got in touch with the families and started a Christmas drive where people could “adopt” a family and provide Christmas gifts, Schildkraut said.
At the end of the fall 2017 semester, Schildkraut’s students were looking for extra credit opportunities, paving the way for Cards for Kids.
“That first year we only sent to Las Vegas and to a little boy named Ryland, whose stepmother and two stepsisters had been killed in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and he had been shot and injured but he had survived,” Schildkraut said. “The second year, we added in Parkland which is where I’m from, and there were 23 children who had lost siblings or parents and then two families.”
Schildkraut also collected general cards that they split at the time across four communities – Aurora, Newtown, Orlando and Santa Fe.
“We sent these general cards to those communities through their resilience centers because each community will tend to set up a resilience center after a shooting where people can come get resources, services or things of that nature,” Schildkraut explained.
Last year, they expanded to more communities, including Thousand Oaks, El Paso, Dayton and Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California. In total, they sent holiday cards to 75 children and 16 communities.
For this year, all cards should reach Schildkraut by Dec. 9, which will allow for about a week of sorting and getting them out to make spirits bright.
Schildkraut said they have an estimated 4,000 cards already pledged.
“I think it’s such an amazing opportunity to give something – even if it’s something small – to people who have lost so much,” Schildkraut said.
Students, faculty, staff and members of the community interested in learning more about how they can contribute to Cards for Kids can email Schildkraut at [email protected] or visit the Cards for Kids Facebook page.