Instead of a holiday party, sixth graders at Hickory Hill Elementary donated items to the Nebraska Humane Society Friday.

Students traded in their Christmas cookies for puppy chow—literally.

Instead of having a class holiday party, sixth graders at Hickory Hill Elementary opted to donate items to the Nebraska Humane Society.

It has been a tradition for at least 16 years, sixth grade teacher Cindy Smith said. This year, students donated 3,382 items to the facility as well as $42.

In just two weeks, students worked to collect treats, new toys and blankets for animals at the NHS from the entire school.

On Friday, during what would have been their class party time, students ventured to NHS, where they dropped off their donations and got a tour of the facility.

During the tour, students learned about NHS and saw how the items they collected will be of good use to the animals.

Smith said that younger students are excited to get to sixth grade so they can choose to give back rather than receive a party.

Each year, Smith said, she is proud of her students’ kindness.

“This community service project puts into practice what Hickory Hill embodies with our be safe, be respectful, be responsible and most of all be kind philosophy,” she said in an email.

“The project demonstrates what we value at Hickory Hill and the Papillion Community.”

Smith said it is important to help others, and she hopes her students always think back to this moment.

“We hope that our students remember this project and the feeling that they have when helping others and continue to give back to their community,” she said. “Our hope for students is that this project has a rippling effect in their future.”

Though this has been going on for years, Smith said it never gets old seeing students do the right thing.

Throughout the year, students are taught to be kind and now they get to demonstrate what that really means.

Whether it be for animals or people, giving back during the holiday season is important, Smith said.

“If we can leave our students with the idea of giving back, especially during the holidays, then we have accomplished a lifelong lesson in helping others,” she said.

“Being kind is the greatest gift you can give another living thing.”

Be the first to know when news happens. Get the latest breaking headlines sent straight to your inbox.

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.