Carson City youth lights up lives of others during Hanukkah
Appeal Staff Writer
When Brenda Kipling asked her son Dagen, 9, what he wanted for Hanukkah this year, he paused -and couldn’t think of anything.
“I just thought ‘I’ll give him some time and he’ll think of something,'” she said. “He’s a thoughtful boy and I knew he’d come up with something good.”
Dagen came through – in a big way.
He approached his mother at the end of November and declared he’d found what he wanted for his Hanukkah gift.
He wanted to give back.
“I just think there’s a lot of kids out there – well, kids and adults – who don’t have a lot to celebrate this time of year,” said the Fritsch Elementary fourth-grader. “I have a lot to be thankful. I have my family, my friends at school, my dog.
“I thought ‘yeah, it’s my turn to do something.'”
Brenda said she and her son immediately started to “furiously plan” for the eight days of Hanukkah. Coordinating a community-related activity for Dagen to participate in every day from Dec. 4-11 (and fit in school, wrestling, homework and a little downtime) was “not as easy as we thought,” said Brenda, whose husband, Scott, she credited for spearheading Dagen’s eight days of giving.
“We thought giving might be easy,” she said. “We learned something else.”
As Dagen stood in front of the North Carson SaveMart Tuesday evening, ringing a bell for The Salvation Army and collecting money from strangers – the red-headed boy with a toothy pre-teen grin said his effort was simply “so worth it.”
“I never expected it to turn out like it did,” he said while pulling down the scarf that was covering his face, chin to eyes.
“Giving isn’t always easy.”
Dagen’s week and a day of giving started on Dec. 4 with a donation of chickens through Heifer International, which helps donors give the gift of food to families with limited resources.
“That was pretty easy, just going online,” Dagen said.
But his work was far from over.
On Dec. 5, the second night of Hanukkah, Dagen, with mother Brenda’s help, “adopted” a senior citizen in need through her employer – the State of Nevada.
“We were able to get a wish-list from my work,” she said. “I think that’s when (Dagen) started to realize we were really doing this.”
Night three was Dagen’s first “hands-on” experience as he served food to more than 200 homeless at the Reno-Sparks Gospel Mission soup kitchen.
“You think of shelters as warm places,” Brenda said. “They are not. It’s cold in there. But the people are so thankful.”
Dagen said it was his experience at the soup kitchen that was his most memorable. Marveling at the number of appreciative recipients of food, he said it was there that the idea of giving “really started to make sense.”
“I want to go back there at least once a month,” said Dagen, who plans on not only making giving a year-round priority, but hopes once he earns a degree from his first-choice college, Harvard, that it will be a part of his professional life as well. “I guess you look at these people and in that – you can kind of see in their faces what they go through.
“It’s then I realized that this was something I wanted to do.”
On the fourth night, Dagen took a box full of coats that he’d helped collect from friends, family and neighbors to Friends in Service Helping of Carson City.
“It was then I think we realized this would be more time-consuming and expensive than giving him eight gifts,” mother Brenda said, smiling. “But I think the real gift Dagen … well, let him tell it.”
Dagen told it by continuing to ring his Salvation Army bell, pulling down his scarf every time a passerby placed loose change or a dollar or two inside the red drum.
“Thank you – we appreciate it,” he said.
Before lighting the fifth candle of the menorah, Dagen and his dog, a bichon frise/poodle mix named “Chewy,” visited the Eagle Valley Group Care Centre and entertained a half-dozen seniors.
“My this is the prettiest little dog,” said Eagle Valley resident Gloria Vickers. “I just love seeing the dogs (and) the kids coming around.
“Everyone’s so active.”
Night six found Dagen at Carson Toyota, where he carried in two boxes of brand new toys for less-fortunate children.
Perhaps living somewhat vicariously, Dagen said he stockpiled toys “mostly for boys.”
“There’s a few things in here for girls,” he said Sunday while loading the toys into the flatbed of a new Toyota Tundra in the dealership’s showroom as sales staff looked on. “Some princess stuff, some stuff for coloring. But I figured I’d know what a boy my age might like.”
The penultimate night of Hanukkah found Dagen getting a lesson in what it takes to feed a town of needy, from the FISH Food Bank.
“He’s got a lot of groceries, I will say that,” said Reed Robbins, director of human services for the food bank, marveling at Dagen’s third trip from his car with arms full of groceries. “We love taking donations. We are always looking for people to help out – especially during the holidays.”
The food bank feeds 30-50 households a day, Robbins said, with 700 families receiving food items at some point during the year.
“We serve on a statement of need basis,” he said. “If someone says they need – we serve them.”
Dagen’s eyes widened as he saw the neatly stacked rows of canned goods, the almost floor-to-ceiling supply of boxed macaroni and cheese and the efficiency with which food bank volunteers sorted and parceled out his donation, as soon as he unloaded it.
“Looking at what goes on back here; this is something everyone should see,” he said.
Then there was Tuesday night.
With the mercury dipping below the 20-degree mark as the sun set over the Sierras shortly after 4 p.m., Dagen, wearing a red apron, mother Brenda, bundled in her winter coat and red scarf, and father, Scott, clad in a leather jacket – settled in for a three-hour shift of bell-ringing.
“Oh my, it is cold out here,” Brenda said. “To think that some people spend the night in this.”
Dagen, his gloved hand stuck to the bell handle, shifted his weight for warmth and did a little jig every time his kettle was stuffed.
“We’re getting a ton of money out here – a ton,” he said.
Reflecting on the week of Hanukkah that had been, Dagen declared that next year the planning would start earlier and the giving would be “bigger.”
“When I used to open gifts, I would play with them for 10 minutes and then they’d go in my closet for three years,” he said. “I think I learned you don’t have to go from here to Florida to do something. You don’t have to be a certain age to do something.
“And I also learned, giving takes a lot of effort, a lot of energy – more than I ever thought. It’s also more worth it than I thought.”
With a rapidly filling kettle, and his shift as a bell-ringer almost over, Dagen was asked what he wanted for himself on the last night of Hanukkah.
A bike? A Nintendo Wii? A new snowboard?
“Just soup, lots of hot soup,” he said.
• Contact reporter Andrew Pridgen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1219.
Dagen’s Hanukkah schedule of giving
From Dec. 4-11
Night 1: Donated a fleet of chickens to be sent to El Salvador through Heifer International (www.heifer.org)
Night 2: Adopted a senior citizen in need and filled a gift wish list through the State of Nevada
Night 3: Served food to 200 homeless at the Reno-Sparks Gospel Mission soup kitchen
Night 4: A box of coats delivered to FISH Carson City Health & Human Services
Night 5: Accompanied dog Chewy to visit seniors at the Eagle Valley Group Care Centre
Night 6: Toys for Tots donation at Carson Toyota
Night 7: A carload of groceries delivered to the FISH Food Bank
Night 8: Rang a bell from 3-6 p.m. at the North Carson SaveMart for The Salvation Army