Waterloo high school students bringing toys to Peru for service project

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WATERLOO, Ill. – High school students spent Monday morning filling their suitcases for a trip in February they won’t soon forget.

“We’ll only have about one extra suitcase per student and there’s a lot of stuff we need to bring down,” said Aaron Grohmann, senior at Gibault Catholic High School. “With the weight limit being 50 pounds, that’s something we need to consider. So we’ll have to go through each and every suitcase to make sure that’s right.”

“Right now, I think we calculated our kids will be taking 950 pounds of supplies to Peru,” said Pat Herzing, director of enrollment at Gibault Catholic. “It includes not only toys, but supplies and personal care items.”

Thirteen students from Gibault Catholic and six chaperones are flying to Peru for a service project. Once there, they’ll spend two weeks working at an orphanage, bringing a bit of Christmas with them.

“But we had all these others come in from another source and I didn’t want to see these toys go to waste,” said Waterloo Mayor Tom Smith. “I found out Gibault is going to Peru to an orphanage and I thought, ‘What a great place! We can send toys down there and put them in suitcases. We can get more toys.’”

House of Neighborly Service, which helps families in need in Monroe County, Illinois, had a surplus of donated toys. Many of them had damaged packaging, but not the items inside.

On Monday, the Waterloo Optimist Club donated a thousand-dollar check to help with any extra baggage fees.

“As our Mayor Tom Smith put together a Toys for Tots program with the Optimists that has some extra toys if you will, and rather than see them stay here in Waterloo, we decided to help the students of Gibault share those toys on their trip to Peru this year,' said Kevin Oeste, president of the Optimist Club.

After all, when it comes to gifts, it’s not the packaging that matters most, but rather the act of giving.

“Being able to have this opportunity to go to a different country and be humbled by this experience and see these kids,” said Taylor Hoylman, senior. “It really does make me happy.”