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Small hands with big hearts send aid to Florida school hit hard by hurricanes

These Chestnut Ridge girls add to the growing line of washcloth bunnies and bears that the student body made to send to the school children in Immokalee, Florida.

Dave Mast

People everywhere are banding together to provide support for the many people who have been stricken by the recent horrendous hurricanes in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and many of the islands south of the United States.
Nobody said you have to be an adult to lend a hand though. Recently a group of youngsters at Chestnut Ridge Elementary combined forces and showed they cared by creating a project to help a school hit hard in Central Florida.
On Friday, Sept. 29 the gymnasium at Chestnut Ridge Elementary was packed with students eager to lend a helping hand to fellow elementary students more than 1,000 miles away who were facing a hardship due to Hurricane Irma.
Last year Launie Shaw’s third-grade class at Chestnut Ridge began a pen pal project between Shaw’s class and the third-grade class of her daughter Hannah Stoneman at Village Oaks in Immokalee, Florida. That helped create some friendships and bonds that are heart-warming, despite the many miles between the two groups.
When Stoneman contacted her mother and told her about the major flooding in the Village Oaks area and how the school had been turned into a shelter for area families during the hurricane that swept through Florida, Shaw and her students wanted to do something that would make a difference and be uplifting to the students they have grown to know.
“The school in Immokalee has been used as a shelter for the past two and a half weeks, and they experienced some devastation with flooding and from the tornado that came roaring through there,” Shaw said. “It really did some damage to their area, but it hasn’t been really highly publicized because it is in a very rural community. Hannah called me and said that they could really use some help and wondered if there was anything we could do to help them out.”
Stoneman told her mother that everything there was wet, smelly and dirty and any kind of basic health-care products would be very much appreciated.
“We wanted to make this something very functional but at the same time kind of fun and uplifting for the kids there,” Shaw said.
What they came up with were washcloth bunnies and teddy bears. The bunnies were folded washcloths stuffed with a bar of soap while the washcloth teddy bears were holding a toothbrush, toothpaste and soap. Rather than use rubber bands to tie them together, they used four hair bands, which provided even more functionality to the bears.
The Chestnut Ridge third-graders put together the bears while the second-graders with help from the Chestnut Ridge fifth- and sixth-grade students put together the bunnies. A number of volunteer parents also came in to lend a helping hand.
“They were fun and let the kids there know we were thinking about them, but they were also very functional and something that was really needed right now,” Shaw said.
The students put together 111 bears, which will go to the third-graders, while 100 bunnies will find their way to second-graders. Shaw said that would be enough for all of the second- and third-grade students at Village Oaks.
In addition a number of Chestnut Ridge fourth-grade students who had developed pen pal relationships with current fourth-graders at Village Oaks made some specifically for their pen pals.
“We’re hoping to establish some new relationships with this year’s third-graders,” Shaw said. She added that they had some additional items brought in by families that will be sent down to the school as well.
While it is fun for the students to communicate with the Florida kids as pen pals, the Chestnut Ridge students are receiving a valuable lesson in giving to those in need through this experience.
“It’s a good life lesson, and it shows them that we really do care about their well-being,” Shaw said.
The project began as one designed for the third- and fourth-grade students. Shaw said she and fourth-grade teacher Susie Hershberger initially brought in some items and then opened it up to their students, who got their families involved, and more donations came in. They then opened it up to other staff, who in turn asked if they could send notes home with their kids to collect even more items.
“It started as a personal thing, became a staff thing and eventually it went school-wide,” Shaw said with a laugh. “We had a lot of really great donations that came in and allowed us to really go all out with this project.”
It didn’t take long for word of the school’s project to spread, and Mast Farm Service quickly jumped at the chance to help support the effort by paying for the shipping of the packages.
“We saw that there was a need there, and we knew we could help,” said Eli Mast, owner of Mast Farm Service. “I thought it was very special that the kids wanted to step in and do this. Every little bit helps, and this was something we could do to make an impact on the great job they did.”

Published: October 10, 2017
New Article ID: 2017171009960