December 01, 2003

Law school helping with holiday outreach programs

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Students, faculty and staff at Southern Illinois University Carbondale's law school are not just busy preparing for fall semester final exams -- they are taking time to work as Santa's helpers.

Law school personnel are participating in four holiday community outreach programs. The fund-raisers range from collecting toys and gifts for children infected with or affected by HIV, to collecting winter coats and clothing on behalf of local charities. The efforts reflect one of the principles of Southern at 150 -- serving others. Southern at 150 is the blueprint for the University's growth and development by the time it reaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.

"It gives students, faculty and staff the opportunity to get into the Christmas spirit," said Michael P. Ruiz, law school director of admissions, media and community affairs.

The four law school-related efforts are:

  • A toy drive sponsored by LEGALSS (Lesbian and Gay Law Students and Supporters). Students passed out ornament gift tags to students and staff; the tags have the names of children affected by, or infected with HIV in a 15-county area of Southern Illinois. The deadline to deliver unwrapped toys to the law school is Dec. 8. Wrapping of the gifts for 64 children, who are between the ages of six months and 16 years old, starts at 9:30 a.m. Dec. 13, at the Jackson County Health Department.
  • A collection drive by Legal Clinic attorneys and staff who provide household items, toys and clothes for a family that otherwise would not have Christmas. The Christmas list includes household supplies, such as laundry detergent, paper towels and other necessities, for a family chosen by an Illinois Department of Children and Family Services caseworker.
  • Taking mothers staying at the Carbondale Women's Center to an area retail store to shop for Christmas gifts. Donations for gift cards come from law school faculty and staff in lieu of a present exchange.
  • A winter weather clothing drive sponsored by the Christian Legal Society, a registered student organization. A large decorated box in the first-floor lounge area of the law school is the collection point for coats for children and adults, gloves, hats and scarves. The donation deadline is Dec. 12, and anyone with questions can contact organization president Britt W. Sowle at
LEGALSS' effort is an extension of the missions of both the organization and the law school, LEGALSS president Tamara M. Shults said.

"We are a school of law with a mission of public service," she said. "This is just one type of outreach activity that we do as a student organization."

Steven St. Julian, director of the Southern Illinois HIV Consortium, said the law school and the Center for Comprehensive Services in Carbondale are two of his organization's biggest donors. The children are infected with HIV or have immediate family members who are, said St. Julian, who started the drive about nine years ago. The Lifesavers Club of Carbondale Community High School will wrap the gifts.

Mary C. Rudasill, associate law school dean, is legal clinic director. About seven years ago, attorneys and staff decided to focus on helping a family instead of buying presents for each other. This year, an area mother with four children will receive gifts, she said.

The idea is to "adopt" a family, get their "wish list," and pool the money. The staff goes out and shops and then wraps the gifts.

"It's just kind of a nice thing to do together," she said. "The professional staff, the clerical staff, and the students get involved."

Associate professor Alice M. Noble-Allgire oversees collecting money from faculty and staff for families staying at The Women's Center in Carbondale. The program is in its fourth or fifth year.

After exchanging money for gift cards from a local merchant, Noble-Allgire takes the women to choose toys and clothes for their children -- so the gifts are from the mothers themselves rather than somebody else.

Noble-Allgire said the women are told to buy a gift for themselves, but invariably, the gifts are for their children.

"The people who are at the shelter are certainly deserving of this kind of kindness at Christmas time," she said. "They are going through a very difficult time."