McNeal Elementary students work together to collect blankets, stuffed animals and clothing for Afghan refugees.
What started as a conversation between Bea Schaeffer, the art teacher at Gilbert W. McNeal Elementary School, and six fifth graders about Afghan refugees turned into a schoolwide effort to collect blankets, stuffed animals, clothes and more to donate to refugees.
Isabella Lawton, one of Schaeffer’s fifth grade helpers, said the group learned some refugee children were without their parents, so the they wanted to provide them some comfort.
The group made posters to let students know about their donation drive, which started Sept. 7.
When the drive ended Sept. 16, the group, with help from Schaeffer’s fourth grade art apprentices, collected 57 large garbage bags of clothing, blankets and stuffed animals to send to Lutheran Services Florida.
“We were doing something big to help them because they have nothing,” fifth grader Sullivan Clark said. “They have nowhere to go. It made us feel like we were doing service to help them and made us feel really happy. It made us smile.”
Each day, Schaeffer would find a pile of donations sitting in a can outside her room ready for her students to sort through and place in plastic bags.
“It was like Christmas for these kids when they would stop by the classroom and see all those bags,” Schaeffer said. “It’s inspiring to see them excited about making a difference.”
Some items triggered emotions from the students.
“When we were going through the stuff, there were these baby socks that infants could fit in, and it made me so happy,” Clark said.
Ashley Terry, the vice principal at McNeal Elementary, said her sons, Kallen, who is a third grader at McNeal, and Keagan, who is a fifth grader, came home after seeing the posters and went through their closets to see what they could donate.
“I’m so proud of Mrs. Schaeffer and our fifth grade helpers and the apprentices,” Terry said. “They have been working together.”
Terry took the drive as an opportunity to talk to Keagan about Afghanistan, the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 and why the United States was in Afghanistan.
“It allowed parents to have a conversation at home to remember that we are leaders and still help out in times of need,” Terry said.
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