Kids donate savings to victims

Texas schoolchildren had collected money for playground for 7 years

Terrorism Strikes America

September 30, 2001|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

FORT WORTH, Texas - The catalogs for playground equipment were piled on Principal Jacquie Akers' desk at Borman Elementary School in Denton, Texas. In the lobby were three 5-gallon water bottles - two filled with pennies, dimes and quarters, and one still being filled daily by the children who wanted new playground equipment. The savings effort had been going on for seven years, and the school was finally getting ready to make the purchase.

But all the coins so carefully collected won't be buying the new equipment the children have craved for so long. The pupils voted to donate all of their savings to the Red Cross.

"We were ready to start talking about playground equipment," said Akers, "but after last week, it just seemed so frivolous."

Last week, Akers asked the pupils if they would consider donating their pennies to the Red Cross to help the victims of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. The answer was "a resounding yes," she said.

"We'll just have recess inside," said fourth-grader Jessica Sanchez, 9. "It's a lot better than having all those people hurt and not having anything."

The pupils, in prekindergarten to fifth grade, don't have playground equipment but sometimes go to a park up the street from the school.

Not only have the children agreed to donate their savings from school, but they're also bringing in more.

"I brought all the money that was in my piggy bank Tuesday because I wanted to help people that were hurt," said Selena Posada, 9.

Fliers announcing what the children had decided to do went home in backpacks Monday afternoon. Within an hour, people started to react. One mother went to a Red Cross fund-raiser at Grapevine Mills, and soon the news was on the radio. Newspapers, radio, TV, parents and teachers have spread the word.

The children's gesture has touched a lot of people.

"A woman drove up and said, `I don't go to school here, but take my bag of pennies,'" Akers said.

By Wednesday, the coins in the water bottles had almost doubled, adding up to four full bottles, said Assistant Principal Lisa De Los Santos.

Three companies have called the school, offering to help the children get playground equipment, and U.S. Rep. Kay Granger's office called, wanting to fax the school's initiative to the White House.

When Akers and the children found out that someone wanted to help them, they were stunned. "I am just overwhelmed by the generosity out there," Akers said. "I've been keeping the kids abreast. One of the girls in second grade said, `Everybody really cares about us.'"

A local bank is lending the school a counting machine. Soon after, the donation will be on its way to the Red Cross.

Akers came up with the idea to let the classes guess how much they've saved, with the class closest to the right amount winning a pizza party.

The plan seven years ago was to save 1 million pennies, which would add up to $10,000 or a nice set of playground equipment. Akers said.

"We wanted to save a million," she said, "because no one in this school has ever seen a million anything. Now, there's pennies, nickels, dimes and soup labels.

"We save soup labels, and a few of the kids have gotten confused."

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