Naperville Central High School's award-winning newspaper.

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Naperville Central High School's award-winning newspaper.

Central Times

Naperville Central High School's award-winning newspaper.

Central Times

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Communication arts teacher runs annual gift card drive to support families staying at Ronald McDonald House

Every+year%2C+communication+arts+teacher+Barry+Baldwin+%28left%29+drops+off+gift+cards+to+Holly+Buckendahl+%28middle+left%29%2C+the+CEO+of+The+Ronald+McDonald+House+Charities+of+Chicagoland+and+Northwest+Indiana%2C+with+the+help+of+Cathy+Wegner+%28middle+right%29+and+Ed+Wegner+%28right%29%2C+parents+of+Justin+Wegner%2C+an+alumnus+who+started+the+drive.
Photo Courtesy of Barry Baldwin
Every year, communication arts teacher Barry Baldwin (left) drops off gift cards to Holly Buckendahl (middle left), the CEO of The Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana, with the help of Cathy Wegner (middle right) and Ed Wegner (right), parents of Justin Wegner, an alumnus who started the drive.

For the past eight years, Central communication arts teacher Barry Baldwin has made it his mission to collect gift cards from students and staff to fund Ronald McDonald House Charities, or RMHC.

The Ronald McDonald Houses are apartment buildings next to children’s hospitals, where the Ronald McDonald foundation pays for families to stay there while their child is being treated.

Inside the Ronald McDonald facilities are areas where families can select gift cards and other things like toys or books, all available for free via donation.

Baldwin developed a personal connection to the nonprofit organization after one of his students, Justin Wegner, who was staying at a Ronald McDonald House while being treated for cancer, requested his help in supporting the foundation.

“Justin Wegner was a special kid that went through Naperville Central,” Baldwin said, “He was one of those kids that stepped up and always helped kids in need.”

Baldwin and a group of his students he assembled bounced around a few ideas before Wegner mentioned collecting gift cards to donate to the charities.

“Knowing that the cancer that he had was very aggressive, and living past five years was a long shot, everybody pretty much jumped on board to help,” Baldwin said.

That first drive began in 2016, and was immediately successful. Following Wegner’s passing in 2019, the gift card drive continued in his memory.

“Anytime I get to do something in Justin’s memory, it’s a positive thing,” Baldwin said.

Prior to the start of the gift card drive, Baldwin connected with Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, an institution with a RMH close by, due to his nephew’s stay there.

“I have always had a special place in my heart for Lurie’s,” Baldwin said.

Each year for the drive Baldwin gets in touch with multiple clubs and sports teams at Central to have them post information about the drive and where to deposit gift cards.

“Students come in and donate [gift cards anyway], but the support of the football team, lit mag, cheerleaders and baseball team is invaluable,” Baldwin said.

For the drive Baldwin recruits the help of a student for sorting the gift cards. This year he asked senior Noah Carlson for help. Baldwin even plans to pass the entire drive to someone else at some point.

“Even when he [eventually] retires, he’s keeping it alive by passing it on to other people,” Carlson said.

Carlson organized the gift cards based on their type and numerical value before returning them to Baldwin.

“I think it’s great when you see students coming together to support something and to give [the gift cards] to kids and families they don’t even know,” Baldwin said.

The drive ended on Feb 1, but students and staff can donate all year around.

On Feb 14, Baldwin presented the CEO of The Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana, Holly Buckendahl, with $5,493.58 worth of gift cards collected during this year’s drive.

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About the Contributor
Kate Johnson
Kate Johnson, Staff Writer
Kate Johnson is a junior at Naperville Central. This is her first year on Central Times staff and she plans on majoring in Journalism and Communications. She enjoys writing opinion pieces. Outside of school she reads and plays video games. She is in the Theatre club and plans on playing Badminton for Central.
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