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TWIN FALLS — Canyon Ridge High School’s student council descended on Fred Meyer on Friday to shop for Twin Falls families they’d never met who are struggling this Christmas.

The school’s annual “Pennies for Possibilities” fundraiser brought in $36,700 this year. Money is being used to help at least nine families, with an average of about $2,000 to spend per family on necessities and gifts.

“This is the most we’ve made ever,” said Canyon Ridge High senior Lauren Wilcox, 18, who is the Pennies for Possibilities coordinator. “We really hustled.”

Twin Falls and Canyon Ridge high schools’ change drives aren’t what you’d expect. It goes way beyond children rounding up nickels and dimes to put in a donation can. It’s a major months-long fundraising effort, complete with many school and community events and seeking donations from local businesses.

Canyon Ridge students have organized a Pennies for Possibilities drive every year since the school opened in 2009. At Twin Falls High School, a similar initiative — “Change 2 Change” — started in 2002, and students have raised more than $500,000 since.

Raising money and providing gifts to families in need is also a lesson in gratitude for students. “I’m grateful to be part of something bigger than school,” Wilcox said.

In order to raise money, Canyon Ridge High’s fundraisers included school competitions, a color run, Applebee’s breakfast days, raising money from a Sadie Hawkins Day dance, Chick-fil-A days for students and fundraising through Barnes & Noble.

Canyon Ridge’s student council spent Friday shopping, wrapping gifts and delivering them to families that night, complete with singing Christmas carols to the recipients.

Twin Falls High’s student council raised more than $18,000 this year through Change 2 Change. Students shopped Saturday for gifts for 15 families and provided supplies for a local shelter.

Most recipient families this year have children enrolled at Twin Falls High, so student council members didn’t deliver gifts in person like past years.

“This maintains confidentiality for the families and our students,” Twin Falls High student council adviser Carrie Ploss wrote in an email Friday to the Times-News. “A good lesson for our students this year — sometimes the best experience is to do charity without letting anyone know what you are doing.”

At Canyon Ridge High, student council adviser Jeremy Belliston identified families in need by contacting school counselors in the Twin Falls School District for suggestions. Family needs varied, Wilcox said, from a clothes dryer to clothing.

On Friday morning, more than a dozen Canyon Ridge student leaders — many of whom were wearing Santa hats — shopped at Fred Meyer. Each group of students shopped for one family. They had a list with information such as the household size, and the ages and gender of children, but the families were anonymous.

One group of Canyon Ridge students was looking at winter clothing for a girl in the family they’re helping. After picking out a coat, one teen commented: “We need a hat with that.” They found a $6.40 hat and matching gloves.

One member of the group had a cellphone in hand adding up the cost of each item to make sure they were staying within budget. Throughout the store, students were checking which items were on sale and how they could stretch their money.

Another group of Canyon Ridge students was looking for clothing for a 4-year-old and wasn’t sure which size would work best. Nearby, three boys were looking at board games such as Monopoly for the family they’re helping.

It was not only a chance for students to practice life skills such as budgeting but a chance for students to give back to families in need and spread holiday cheer.

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