WASHINGTON — Sue Freeberg taught English and Spanish for 31 years at Washington Community High School.

She also taught her students an important lesson about helping those in need.

For most of the three-plus decades she was on the faculty at the high school, Freeberg asked her students each December to donate spare change to the Journal Star's Christmas Fund, which brightens the holiday for struggling area families.

"I had my students pass around a container at the beginning of each class. They could put loose change in, or put nothing in," Freeberg said.

"We did this until the middle of the month, and it was amazing how much we donated to the Christmas Fund each year. Small amounts add up quickly."

Combining money from her students with spare change given to her by high school colleagues, Freeberg collected from $60 to $100 each year for the Christmas Fund.

The donation was particularly meaningful, Freeberg said, because her profession gave her a glimpse into the needs of her students outside the classroom.

"When you see 150 students every day, you learn firsthand that not all families are as economically stable as some people assume," she said.

"There are other needs besides financial, too, like parenting needs, or help with schoolwork."

Freeberg retired from the high school in 2003, but she and her husband, Ev, a financial planner, have continued their tradition of making their own donation to the Christmas Fund each year since they moved to Washington in 1972 from Champaign-Urbana.

They donated $100 to the fund this year.

"Ev's parents and my parents each instilled in us a desire to help your community," Sue Freeberg said. "My husband and I support area organizations and needs as much as possible, and what we like about the Christmas Fund is, the money stays in the area."

This is the 107th year for the Christmas Fund. Money provides food baskets and toy-stuffed red stockings for needy families in Peoria, Tazewell, Woodford and Fulton counties.

More than 4,700 food baskets were distributed and 1,700 red stockings were given to children ages 3 to 11 this year, but monetary donations are still being accepted to help reach the goal of $155,000.

Donations can be made online at christmasfunddonation.com or through the mail at Christmas Fund, P.O. Box 1549, Peoria IL 61655.

Steve Stein can be reached at (248) 224-2616 or stevestein21@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.