Lacy fourth-graders collect hugs for Haiti

Date: Thursday, February 25, 2010
news@princetonherald.com


Front row, Jake Lacey, Kiersten Davies, Sara Bazan and Chesney Owen, work with their teacher Marlena Brown and classmates Austin Hitchcock, Austin Cunningham, Lynnice Rodgers and Maddie McCord to help load Brown's car full of stuffed animals to ship to Haiti.

Students lead charity effort to send hope to children

By Jennifer Fike
Staff Writer

For all the language barriers in the world, there is a universal, foolproof way to communicate care and compassion – a hug. With that in mind, the students and faculty at Lacy Elementary recently set out to send as many hugs as possible to the tragedy-stricken land of Haiti, by beginning a “Hugs for Haiti” campaign.

“After the earthquake in Haiti, the students came to school the following Monday talking about it. They had a lot of questions and comments so we spent several minutes talking about it,” said fourth-grade teacher Marlena Brown. “Many of them were teary-eyed as they shared that they could not begin to imagine losing their parents, or a parent losing children.

“They wondered what could be done to help ... they all wanted to help,” she said.

And so Brown and her students discussed ways they could provide aid to the children of Haiti. “I had students trying to bring me their allowance to help the children of Haiti,” Brown said. “Every single day, the kids asked me about it.  They were serious about helping,” she said, and so she approached Lacy’s Principal Rene Mullins.

Mullins suggested the students participate in a district-wide health kit collection that had already begun.

For several weeks, Princeton schools worked in conjunction with Pastor Jason McConnell from First United Methodist Church to collect simple health kits to be distributed in Haiti. 

Each kit includes a hand towel, wash cloth, fingernail clippers or nail file, comb, toothbrush,  tube of toothpaste,  bar of soap and six bandages.

The supplies are contained in clear plastic bags. Lacy student council members helped collect and organize the kits with help from several teachers.

But Brown said her students were not content just collecting the kits. One of the students told Brown she would want something to hug and hold onto, if she didn't have anyone or anything else.  The other kid shared her sentiment, and that is how “Hugs for Haiti” began.

“I was so amazed by their generosity of spirit,” Brown said. “My students felt compelled to do something from children for other children.”

When the students chose to collect stuffed bears and other soft animals for hugging, Brown set out to find a way to ship the items. She discovered a program being run by doctors from Cook Children’s Hospital, who have arranged to transport the stuffed animals along with other supplies on Army cargo planes.

With a shipping method in place, the students and Brown began to collect as many animals as they could. Each student created a poster to advertise the campaign. The colorful sketches of teddy bears and Red Cross symbols now vie for attention in the halls of Lacy. The hallway beside Brown’s room became a donation location, filling with bags full of hugs waiting to reach children in Haiti.

By Feb. 19, the last day of the drive, the students had collected 629 stuffed animals (including a few dolls), along with dozens of health kits. Though some  might have been shocked by the outpouring of support, Brown said she was not surprised. The students had been so passionate about helping, she said she knew they would have a successful drive.

“I was not surprised by the outpouring of support from our school community. That is what we do here at Lacy Elementary,” Brown said.

“Since we were asking for new or gently used stuffed animals, all students who chose to donate could do so without worry for cost, and it felt good to the students to know that what they did during this collection will affect someone in the future and maybe make a sad day a little easier.” 

Though the entire campus contributed to the project, it was the fourth-graders who spearheaded the “Hugs for Haiti” campaign.

“It feels really good to help,” said Lynnice Rodgers. Chesney Owen and Kiersten Davies said they think the stuffed animals will help the children of Haiti. Hugging a bear will help take away the stress, Kiersten said. The girls’ classmates agreed as they helped load boxes and bags full of bears and other furry creatures into Brown’s car Friday. The animals filled the back seat and trunk, and this was Brown’s second drop-off. 

“On Saturday, Feb. 5, I made a trip to drop off the first round of stuffed animals. I had 342 of them crammed into every space available in my little car. It looked like a menagerie of unusual zoo animals that garnered a few strange looks as I made my way to Fort Worth,” Brown said. A hair salon in Fort Worth is serving as a drop-off location for the stuffed animals.

Though the campaign has meant spending even more time at work, and a weekend trip to Fort Worth, Brown said the effort is more than worthwhile. Seeing her students respond to a need has encouraged her as both a teacher and humanitarian, she said.

“In a world often filled with violence and hate, it’s a beautiful thing to see the loving, giving spirit of my students for children they will never know,” Brown said.

“It gives me hope that one day the world can be the kind of place where that kind of love can be more widely known, where a need is met because it’s the right thing to do, because we are all human and all trying to live in this world together.

“It was good to be a part of something where even those of us here in Princeton, so far removed from this event, can still effect positive change in the world around us.”


Sara Bazan and Kiersten Davies help load animals into their teachers car Friday. Almost a dozen fourth-graders helped transport the animals, but the entire campus helped make "Hugs for Haiti" a success.


Fourth-graders transport a box full of stuffed animals Feb. 19, the last day of their "Hugs for Haiti" campaign.

 


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