Benton Elementary School raises money for Japan

Tuesday, March 22, 2011 | 7:54 p.m. CDT; updated 11:35 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, March 23, 2011

COLUMBIA — Troy Hogg, principal of Benton Elementary School, said there is old saying in Japan that if you can make 1,000 origami cranes, you will be granted a wish.

Paper cranes are a symbol of peace in Japan, adopted after the bombing of Hiroshimain World War II. But in Japan’s time of great despair following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the cranes mean something more for Hogg and his wife, Sanae Hogg, who is Japanese.

“It hits close to home,” Troy Hogg said of the disaster.

He and his wife have taken the lead on two school fundraisers for Japan, raising more than $900 so far for the American Red Cross.

To get teachers involved, Troy Hogg started Jeans for Japan. If a teacher donates $5, he or she may wear jeans for two weeks — something they don't typically do.

“The teachers have been very generous,” Troy Hogg said.

Benton Elementary will officially stop soliciting donations after spring break, and a check will be written to the Red Cross. The school, though, will still accept money after the break and forward it to the Red Cross.

During Benton’s Sock Hop last Friday, Sanae Hogg handed out paper cranes she had made to give to students — to remind them of the people of Japan.

Japan is Sanae Hogg's home, but it also is dear to Troy Hogg. Between 2000 and 2003, he taught English to elementary and middle school students and adults in Japan. He lived in Ogaki, a community of about 10,000 not in the same part of the country but similar to those affected by the disaster.

He met his wife there, and they have two sons, 8-year-old Takashi and 6-year-old Taichi.

The couple continues to be heartbroken by the news. More than 9,000 people have died, according to an article Tuesday in The New York Times, and more than 13,000 people are listed as missing.

“I’m glad that my family and friends are OK,"  said Sanae Hogg, whose family is in Tokyo. "Every time I see pictures or hear the news I still can’t believe it happened.”

Sanae translates online news from Japan for her husband to find out how the people are being helped. They think U.S. news coverage has shifted to focus too much on the nuclear crisis, rather than ways folks can help the Japanese people.

"It takes away from the greatest needs now, which are the people," Sanae said. "People are in a worry mode rather than a helping mode."

Japanese sources report people are receiving blankets, water and food, Sanae Hogg said. But it is not enough, she said, as people are still dying.

The Hoggs said that it was important for them to decide as a couple how to respond to the crisis and that the decision to raise money came with mixed emotions.

“I can’t do anything — just raise money and watch the news,” Sanae Hogg said, beginning to cry.

They began by collecting loose change in a big, plastic jar in the main office at the school.

“We try to instill in students that you help others no matter your situation,” Troy Hogg said. “You do what you can.”

While he was on playground duty last week, a first-grade girl approached him about her loose tooth. She told him that after the tooth fairy came she was going to give the money to the people of Japan.

“I want to help people,” she told him.

Support for his family and the people have Japan has been overwhelming, Troy Hogg said.

“It’s really wonderful to see that kids and families here care about the people in Japan,” he said.

“If I had one wish," Sanae Hogg said, "it would be that the people of Japan are OK."

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