Girls use fashion sense, flip-flops to raise funds for Ukrainian orphans

Mount de Sales students donate $1,000 from efforts

May 31, 2004|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

One day last July, Mary Stanton was waiting for a Mass to begin at Baltimore's Cathedral of Mary Our Queen when a little boy ran up and hugged her.

His name was John Gaver, then 8 years old, the youngest of five Ukrainian orphans adopted by Barbara Gaver, a Mount Washington child and family counselor. Stanton, a religion teacher, became fast friends with the Gaver family.

So when it came time for Stanton's sophomore classes at Mount de Sales Academy, a girls school in Catonsville, to do a Lenten service project, she suggested raising money for the orphanage where John and his sister, Lana, had lived in squalid conditions. She hoped her 110 students would collect a few hundred dollars.

But five girls - touched by a classroom visit from John and Lana, 11 - took the project a step further. They spent two months decorating flip-flops and other accessories with bright ribbons and selling them during lunch periods.

Last week, they presented the Gavers with a check for $1,000 - $700 of which they raised themselves - to send back to the orphanage, with a promise that they're not finished.

Jen Michels, 16, and Lizze O'Ferrall, 15, both of Catonsville, plan to sell flip-flops at their pool clubs this summer. Jen also is selling them at Charlestown Retirement Community, where residents are buying them for their granddaughters. Brittany Jacobs, 15, of Glen Burnie hopes the manager of the pizza parlor where she works will let her sell them there.

In the fall, the girls plan to take a brief break to raise money for their prom. Then they say they'll be right back to sending proceeds to the Chesapeake Children's Lodge, a foundation Barbara Gaver created to help Ukrainian orphans. They want to help the orphanage open a dental clinic.

Barbara Gaver said Ukrainian orphans have poor access to health care and nutritious food. John and Lana have suffered from rickets, a bone-softening disease caused by deficiency of vitamin D, and arrived in the United States two years ago with seven cavities apiece.

John was in a Ukrainian hospital for a year, Lana for a few months. Their former orphanage is in Cherkasy and houses about 320 children.

The flip-flop idea came when Jen and her longtime friend, 16-year-old Kathryn Konstantas of Ellicott City, were bored and decided to decorate flip-flops to match their clothes. They wrapped ribbons around the two converging straps and fastened them with hot glue.

After hearing about the orphanage, Jen asked Stanton about selling flip-flops as a fund-raiser. The teacher encouraged them, stressing that even a little money would go a long way, since the U.S. dollar is worth about five Ukrainian hryvnia.

The girls - Jen, Lizze, Brittany, Kathryn and 15-year-old Chloe Bradbury of Severna Park - began spending every Friday night gathered at one of their houses, watching movies like Bridget Jones's Diary and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days while wrapping, sewing and glue-gunning ribbons.

They expanded their offerings to include barrettes and belts. Prices range from $2 to $8.

They started taking custom orders. "People got picky about it," Kathryn Konstantas said. The biggest complaints came when they ran out of sheer pink ribbon. (Lana got a coveted pair of pink flip-flops wrapped in pink ribbon, with fake pink calla lilies glued where the straps meet.)

The girls were excited when their offerings caught on with juniors and seniors - not just freshmen and their fellow sophomores. The items also are fashionable among little sisters and moms.

Before long, they lost track of how many orders they had filled, and how many trips they had made to Target and Michael's crafts store.

"We weren't expecting it to be this big," Brittany said.

Neither was Barbara Gaver.

"I'm so touched," she said when she saw the girls at the school Friday, as John and Lana distributed thank-you notes.

"These girls have very big hearts," Stanton added, as she gave John and Lana hugs.

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