“Years ago I watched my young children tear into their presents on Christmas morning, and became sad at the thought of other children rushing into their living rooms and finding nothing. As a mother this thought was just too devastating. I wanted to do something about it but I didn’t know what.”
Turning her desire to help into action, Jennifer Icaza-Gast came up with an idea. As a professor at Southeast Missouri State University, she offered bonus points to her class in exchange for toys that would be given to underprivileged children. Even though students had a limit of 20 points they could earn, at five points a toy, they were bringing in 30 or 40, sometimes over 50 toys each. The local news caught wind of the students’ charitable spirit and did a story on Jennifer’s class.
Overwhelmed by the generosity, Jennifer organized ‘Student Santas’, making the toy drive public. She started receiving letters from parents needing help for Christmas. With the help of local news companies more donations arrived to help those parents. When Jennifer read a letter from a 5-year-old-boy asking for a ‘nice meal’ for Christmas she added a food drive to Student Santas as well, providing food to families who would otherwise have very little to eat over the holidays.
Student Santas is now a community event with volunteers donating and personally delivering gifts and food. Every penny donated goes to kids and their families who are in need, and all funding is completely used each year to make sure every letter is answered.
Jennifer Icaza-Gast – Founder
With three children of her own, Jennifer holds a special place in her heart for helping others, especially kids. She understands the desire to fulfill a child’s wish for Christmas, and has made it her goal to bring hope to families in need.
Born and raised in the Cape Girardeau area, Jennifer has a special connection to the community, and works hard to give back to it… optimistic that this generosity will be passed down through generations. She is adamant about the sincerity of giving, and teaches her children about the benefits of charity.
Jennifer has taught public speaking and interpersonal communication for 12 years at the college level, and serves on the board for several non-profit organizations such as The American Cancer Society Cape Cancer Gala, Cape Area Medical Alliance, Care to Learn, Cape Evening Optimist, Cape Backpack program, Cape Girardeau Speaker’s Bureau, and the ABC program of Cape.
Megan Devenport – President
Megan joined Student Santas as a freshman in college, after hearing about the organization in Jennifer Icaza-Gast’s speech class. She wanted to make a difference in the lives of children, and with Christmas being such an important time in a child’s life, she could think of nothing more rewarding than making the holidays special for kids in need.
One year later, Megan became president of the organization after serving as the secretary. Megan finished her college years working diligently with the Student Santas, recruiting her family and friends along the way. Her family has become a huge part of the organization, helping to make others aware of the work they do and how everyone can get involved. Megan’s passion is spreading joy for the season.
Rachael Lawson – Board Member
Rachael was raised on a farm in Southeast Missouri, and now lives in Downtown Cape Girardeau with her husband, Donnie. She serves on the missions council at LaCroix Church, and has been employed as a pharmaceutical representative at Lilly USA for the last 12 Years. Prior to Lilly she worked in fashion retail, earning a B.A. in Fashion Merchandising, and an M.A. in Human Environmental Studies Education from Southeast Missouri State University. She and her husband enjoy traveling and are very passionate about reinvigorating the historical downtown area in which they live. As a hobby she practices the art of decoration, design, and refurbishing. She was inspired by Jennifer’s vision to help those in need, and works hard to benefit the organization and those it serves.
Anita Drury – Board Member
A native of Southeast Missouri, Anita has been involved in philanthropy for many years. It has always been her desire to create an impact within the community in which she and her family reside.
After meeting Jennifer Icaza-Gast and learning of her wonderful charitable organization, she had an immediate desire to become involved.
Anita feels Student Santas is a very rewarding and worthwhile cause that makes such a difference and brings joy to the lives of so many less fortunate children during the holiday season.
Deena Ring – Board Member
Deena knows the importance of helping those in need. Not only is she a board member for Student Santas, but she volunteers with the Glenn House, and St. Andrew Lutheran Church, provides Celebrate Recovery Dinners, and has raised two sons of her own. Born and raised in Cape Girardeau she has worked in the public school system as a teacher and administrator for 25 years, and as such believes that children are the greatest national resource, which is why she decided to become a part of Student Santas – to help children and their families.
Callie Welker – Board Member
Callie is passionate about health and her community. Born and raised in Cape Girardeau she is a personal trainer and registered dietitian for Snap Fitness. She serves on several boards and committees that service the community, and has added Student Santas to her roster. She personally sees the impact her work has on families, and loves helping children.