Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Catholic children put creativity to work for tsunami relief fund-raising

by Jami LeBrun, Inland Register staff

(From the Feb. 24, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

Though the disaster in Asia happened nearly two months ago, tsunami relief efforts are still in full swing and people all over Spokane – from the smallest of children to the elderly on fixed incomes – are still trying to do their part to help the victims of one of the worst natural disasters in history.

Paper links, representing donations of 10 cents each, overflowed St. Charles School. (IR photo by Jami LeBrun)

Students in Spokane’s Catholic schools are no different, and many of them are coming up with very creative ways to raise money.

Two of the more creative approaches to relief came from St. Thomas More and St. Charles schools in Spokane.

The 230 students at St. Charles decided to do a “Links Project” to help make a difference in the lives of those who lost so much in the South Asia tsunami.

As part of Catholic Schools Week, students were encouraged to bring in their own money and purchase paper links for 10 cents each. At the end of the week, they had created a “Chain of Caring” long enough to wrap around the inside of their school nearly three times.

The students presented a check for $820.26 to Scott Cooper of Catholic Charities as part of a ceremony on the afternoon of Friday, Feb. 4, along with the chains they created, to be donated to Catholic Relief Services for the relief effort in South Asia.

“I figured it was a thing we’re all supposed to do,” said Michael Dumais, a fifth grader at St. Charles. “We’re all supposed to help others and the tsunami victims need help – even a penny can help.”

Eight-year-old Hannah Faiman said it was not so hard to give her own money to help others. “I felt like it,” she said, simply. Her second grade class raised over $80 for the Links Project.

When asked if they ever imagined their school could create such a large chain, their eyes became large and excited, and as Faiman shook her head emphatically no, Dumais exclaimed, “I didn’t think we’d end up with half as much.”

Students of all ages did their part. Three-year-old Lily Warne brought the entire contents of her piggy bank to purchase links for the project. She emptied what she called her “jar of change,” counted it, and excitedly gave it all away for the opportunity to help “children like (her)” in South Asia.

A little bit of competition between the classrooms did not hurt the effort, either. Olivia Skierka, a seventh-grader at St. Charles, said that competition inspired her class to get to work.

“On the first day, fifth grade already had a huge chain started and we didn’t have anything. We didn’t want to lose to the fifth grade,” she said.

Skierka set a goal for the school to raise $1,000. “I figured it out – that’s $4 per person,” she said. Though the school did not quite reach that number, Skierka said she was not disappointed. She felt like the work they did would still make an impact.

The students did not just limit themselves to monetary donations. They pray for the victims of the tsunami in their classrooms each day. “We pray for the victims,” said Skierka, “especially to keep the kids that are sick healthy.”

St. Charles principal Skip Bonuccelli was very proud of the students’ efforts.

“This was such a perfect part of Catholic School’s Week,” he said. “We’re all about caring and sharing, so we decided to hold off on the project until Catholic School’s Week because it connects so well.”

After the ceremony, Scott Cooper of Catholic Charities said the Links Project “was a wonderful opportunity for children to learn about solidarity, to learn that even the youngest can take action to touch the lives of other children they’ve never met in countries they may not yet be able to imagine. I applaud the creativity of the teachers who gave the students a concrete visible sign – the chains – of their generosity. It was also an example that we hope will remain with them throughout their lives that we give to others not because they’re Catholic or Christian, but because we are.”

The combined youth groups of the three parishes in Walla Walla raised $165 for tsunami relief with their Souper Bowl of Caring on Feb. 6.

Taylor Eymann watched the pictures and video of the horrifying tsunami with her family after Christmas. As wave after wave crashed over the shores, flooding cities and towns and destroying everything in sight, including schools, Eymann’s heart went out to the victims, especially the children like her.

So, she hatched a plan and immediately went about making it a reality. She called the principal of St. Thomas More School, Doug Banks, and sent him a personal letter detailing the elements of her plan and asking permission to take action.

When school began again in January, 10-year-old Eymann issued a challenge to the entire school. She asked her fellow students at St. Thomas More to join her in adopting an English speaking school in East Asia that was completely destroyed in the December tsunamis. Though Ey-mann knew that she and her classmates could not very well head over to India and rebuild the school, she knew they could do something to help.

Students at Cataldo School, Spokane (left), held a penny drive for tsunami victims on Jan. 13. Pennies and other change donated totaled over $1,850. The collection was presented at a Mass offered for the victims of the disaster. (IR photo from Cataldo School)

As president of the fifth grade class, Eymann organized a committee of five girls to help her head up the project. They decided to do a book drive to help the school get back on its feet. Their goal: Collect 2,500 books by the end of February.

Eymann drafted a letter that went home with each student, announcing the goal and asking each family to donate 10 of their used books to the project. In the meantime, she and the other four members of the Tsunami Help Committee went to each classroom in the school during their recesses to raise awareness of the project.

“Everyone is really excited,” said Karen Kiehl, a member of the Tsunami Help Committee. “On the first day, my class brought in 83 books.”

Eymann and her father contacted UNICEF – the United Nations aid organization – and the Save the Children organization to find the right school to donate the books. After some searching, Dr. Neeraj Mittal of UNICEF selected Arukattuthurai Government School near Nagapattinam, India as the school to benefit from St. Thomas More School’s efforts. The school was selected because it was completely destroyed and because it teaches English as a primary language. The books will be flown to the school at the end of the month.

As they near the end of the project, the five girls are very proud of their efforts and impressed with the successful response of the rest of the school. “It’s us five just trying to get the whole school to do something,” said Eymann.

Third graders in St. Augustine Parish’s Religious Education Program sold hot chocolate after Masses to raise money for tsunami relief. (IR photo from Catholic Charities)

“It’s important to help other kids when their lives are hard,” said Danielle Thoma. “Making the idea has been really fun,” she said. “We’ve had lots of meetings and really pulled things together.”

The collected books range from Where’s Waldo? and the Nancy Drew series to books on bird watching and butterfly collecting. Each child has written his or her name in the corner of the inside front cover and before the books are shipped, a sticker will be placed next to the name that says the book came from the students of St. Thomas More of Spokane, WA, USA.

And the books will not be the end of the journey for either St. Thomas More School or Arukat-tuthurai Government School. The Tsunami Help Committee is working on building an interactive website, so that once the school has internet access again, the stu-dents can keep in contact with their new friends on the other side of the world.

Eymann said that will be the best part. “Finding out that kids are using the books we donated will be really special,” she said.

Principal Banks is understandably proud of the project that the fifth graders have done almost completely on their own. He said that service is a large part of their curriculum and he is glad to see it taking root outside the classroom.

“I’m glad to see when they recognize that there are things of need and then recognize what they can do to help,” said Banks. “They’re looking outside their own world.”

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