View logo

Choose your View

Holiday helpers: Sun City couple organize free meals at Crestwood Elementary

This time of year, some philanthropic efforts hand out toys, while others give away children’s coats. One Summerlin couple give families in need at Crestwood Elementary School a holiday meal.

The effort is in its sixth year. Steve Commander and his wife, Diana, are Sun City residents who came up with the idea. Each fall, Steve e-blasts a notice asking for donations.

Donations are used to buy $100 gift cards at Smith’s Food and Drug, which are then used to purchase a turkey dinner with fixings. The first year, the effort fed three families. The second year, it helped 10, and the third, 20. Last year, it fed 80 families.

This year’s food distribution is scheduled for Dec. 19, and donations are being sought by Dec. 2.

Swadeep Nigam of Green Valley first learned of the effort about four years ago and has contributed annually ever since.

“When I first saw the email from Steve Commander, I thought, ‘Well, that’s a good way to help without going through any middleman,’ ” Nigam said. “… It’s important because this community has given a lot to me. I’m very successful in my own ways … I felt it was time to give back.”

This year, Nigam gave $200.

“It makes me feel great,” Nigam said. “Nobody should go hungry during the holiday season.”

The main office at Crestwood Elementary, 1300 Pauline Way, gets input from the counselor’s office to determine which families receive the free food. It averages about $20 per family.

“It’s very needed,” principal Jackie Richardson said. “In our community, we don’t always get a lot of people providing for us. Our families are high-need families. They don’t have a lot of extra money to spend on anything like that.”

Richardson said Smith’s gives them a discount for buying in bulk.

Each year, Steve Commander is on hand to observe the items — frozen turkeys, boxed stuffing, cranberry sauce and canned yams — being handed out.

One year, he saw a couple drive up in a Lexus to get their food. The school’s principal was standing nearby, and Commander asked, “What gives?” But the principal already knew about the couple.

“He told me that both parents had lost their jobs,” Steve Commander said. “So, you can’t always judge a book by its cover.”

Donations are asked of friends, business associates and those in the Commanders’ social circles.

“I’m an annoying person from New York, so I have no problem talking to people,” Steve Commander joked.

He said last year’s effort saw about 30 people participate, collecting donations totaling $1,600. He hopes to feed even more families this year.

“It was an exciting day,” Richardson said of families coming to pick up the food last year. “There was a lot of energy in the room, a lot of chatter, good chatter. It was a feel-good kind of day.”

Doing a good deed comes with red tape, dealing with bureaucracy and a changing sea of faces, Steve Commander said.

“Unfortunately, schools constantly change,” he said. “In the six years we’ve been doing this, there have been three principals and probably five counselors in that time. … then we have to jump through some hoops with Smith’s every year. We have to fill out a form every year and make sure the certificate can only go to the school, but we go through this because we believe it’s very important.”

The school was chosen after the Commanders went online to research which area schools needed help.

“We wanted to help because we wanted to give back. We love kids,” Diana Commander said. “To see the faces on the kids … and the families are so thankful. Some of them, they have eight people because the grandparents live with them. I get the shivers knowing (we) helped somebody.”

The Commanders and some volunteers go to Crestwood to sort the food and observe the turkey dinners being given out. They do not approach the families, nor do they expect gratitude. They just like seeing the families’ faces light up when the food is handed over.

“We like to remain anonymous,” Steve Commander said. “The school knows who we are.”

To donate, contact Steve Commander at or call 702-304-1768. Any checks should be made out to Smith’s.

Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at or 702-387-2949.