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St. Joseph's 5th graders raise $3,400 to build family a home
6/7/2012 5:23:00 PM
By Jean Berns Jones
The 20 students started their fifth grade at St. Joseph's School with a goal in mind -- to raise enough money to build a house for children in need.
The house would be built in either Haiti or Jamaica; they didn't care which. But they knew that whoever received it would be someone in desperate need, and they wanted to help.
They had learned about the havoc caused by Haiti's earthquake and the many homeless families in Jamaica. They heard more about the destitute living conditions from a priest who visited their Dodgeville parish last fall, and about the relief work being done in those countries by Food for the Poor.
"He told how $3,200 would build a safe, secure house with sanitation," explained teacher, Rita Van Dyck. "The students decided to raise money for Food for the Poor because it is a good organization that spends more than 96% of all donations directly on programs that help the poor."
Food for the Poor, the largest international relief agency in the U.S., works to end suffering from poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the organization maintains fundraising and administrative costs of less than 4% of its expenses.
At first the students felt that the total amount of $3,200 seemed as high as the moon. The kids didn't know if they could raise that much money.
Perhaps they would end up with $40 to help provide medical and nutritional aid for malnourished children, or $90 to provide a goat to supply milk, or $205 to install a water pump for a village. They set out to raise as much as they could.
The major fundraiser was a 50-50 raffle held in the school cafeteria one day a week. Every Friday morning throughout the entire school year, the fifth graders sold 25-cent raffle tickets for the project. If one of their class members won the raffle, they put their winnings back into the pot.
"Was it hard to give the money back?" the students were asked.
No," said Eli Hardy, "because we knew we were helping people who don't have money."
"We know those people can use the money a lot more than we need it," added Kole Zajicek.
"A lot of people can't afford houses to live in," said Jen Stoughton. "They have to sleep outside with rats and birds that cause diseases."
"If you sleep on a dirt floor, bugs can infect you," added Nolan James.
Along with the ongoing raffles, they earned money in a variety of other ways, as well. Kaleb Cottone babysat for a family friend's children, Heather Lancaster helped with a garage sale and sold lemonade and brownies. Kelsey Anderson and others did extra chores around the house.
Kirsten Ley walked dogs, Ava Mettbach watered the neighbor's plants, and Cassie McGraw and others gathered spare change around their homes. The class members sold lottery tickets at a school dance.
One boy raised $5 by charging his friends 25 cents to pet their dogs. Others mowed lawns, weeded gardens, and donated their allowance and birthday money.
As months passed, the money started adding up. When at the middle of the school year $1,000 had been earned, the kids started thinking they might be able to meet the total goal.
Then Catholic Schools Week came along and provided a huge boost. The entire school entered into a contest to see which class could raise the most money for Food for the Poor. St. Joseph's students, parents and staff raised $1,200 that week. Fundraising went on until the total goal was met.
St. Joseph's School has sent a check for $3,400 to Food for the Poor and designated it to be spent for a house.
In response, the students received a thank-you letter stating: "Your gift brings comfort to those most in need. So many times they are rejected and forgotten by an oblivious world. But not by you, for you opened your heart to them. You have given them the hope and the compassion every person needs."
"It was a fun experience -- getting money and giving it away," said Adam Phillips.
It was not the first time that this group of students showed generosity toward others. Last year, in 4th grade with teacher Donna Leonard, they won the Lands' End competition for donating winter clothing. The class brought in about 200 pieces of winter clothing.
After winning, the class turned down the pizza party prize, asking Lands' End to put that money into the winter clothing drive, as well. Lands' End responded by asking the students to be their guests for a special breakfast event.
"We looked forward to collecting money for a good cause again," said Adam Phillips. "It makes you feel good, and it's fun."
"We just like helping people," said Ava Mettlach.
The students were asked how they thought it would make the people in Haiti or Jamaica feel to receive the gift of a home.
"It would make them feel surprised," Nolan James said; "And grateful," Cassie McGraw added.
"It would be nice to know that someone you don't know really cares about you," said Jen Stoughton.
When the class was asked if they would like to do a fundraiser like this again, the response was a unanimous, resounding "Yes."
Teacher Rita Van Dyck noted something unusual about this group of students. "These kids never once asked what was in it for them. That just doesn't happen, and it's pretty exceptional for 10-11 year olds. It makes me conclude that they have been raised right."
Although they did not expect a reward for their generosity, the class enjoyed the pizza party Van Dyck treated them to at the end of the year.
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