For most high school students, finals week means headaches. Cramming. Begging.

But for students at Omaha South High School, it also means Christmas sweaters, wacky PJs and fuzzy socks. This year, they got to choose a different theme for each day of Spirit Week, which usually happens just before school gets out for winter break.

Teachers didn’t want to miss out on the fun.

Mathematics teacher Richard Benak has been organizing South’s teacher/staff version of Spirit Week for about 20 years, but as far as he knows, it started long before he got there 31 years ago. This year, teachers and staff had fun with five themes: Retro Christmas, Lawn Ornament, Santa’s Helper, Festive Sweater and Red, Green and White Day.

It’s all for a cause: For as long as anyone can remember, the teachers’ Spirit Week has raised funds for Goodfellows, the World-Herald’s charity that helps folks around the holidays with meal vouchers and all year long with one-time emergency aid for struggling area residents.

“It’s a good thing,” Benak said. “Down here in south Omaha, people can definitely use some help.”

Every day, teachers vote for “best costume” and drop donations in a decorated box in the office.

South High treasurer Karen Ratajski said the school “is a tight-knit school,” and that she considers a lot of the faculty and staff to be family.

“It’s a good way for us to come together as a community and a family,” Ratajski said. “It’s nice to help out your fellow co-worker, student, family (member), whoever you can help out. I wish it went on year-round.”

For the past three years, the goal has been to raise $1,500. According to Benak, they surpassed it Friday morning thanks to “very generous people,” some of whom even came back to make second donations.

Benak likes Goodfellows because it helps local people, and he appreciates the stories the World-Herald publishes about those people and the campaign. He tells his students that worrying about having “the latest thing” doesn’t compare to worrying about having food.

“There are people worse off than you,” Benak said. “You can always find something to give.”

news@owh.com, 402-444-1304

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