Little helpers give with big hearts

Sunday, February 6, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:03 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Jutta Hopkins won’t soon forget the proud dad who walked into the Red Cross office with a blue Reebok shoebox wrapped with duct tape. Inside was $30 in change and a few single bills.

The man’s son and a friend had gone house-to-house in their neighborhood, asking people to help with tsunami relief.

Hopkins, executive director of the local chapter, said she’s seen more children involved in this relief effort than those in the past.

“They see pictures on TV of the children over there, and I think that may have an affect on it,” said Shari Wooldridge, community relations specialist for the Boone County Red Cross chapter.

When Hopkins went to an elementary school in Shelbina, a small town in Shelby County, students didn’t just hand their donations over; two kindergarteners rolled a big jar of pennies through the gym in a red wagon. And that’s from a school in which 45 percent of students eat free or reduced-price lunches.

Susan See, principal of Shelbina Elementary School, said she thinks the students’ generosity was related to their awareness of how the Red Cross helps close to home by assisting victims of house fires, flood and tornadoes. “These things made it seem more real to them,” she said.

“It gets down to a level that a child can participate,” Hopkins said. “We’re not just asking corporations to send a thousand dollars. Here, a child can send their quarter or penny. They can make a difference.”

Both the local and national Red Cross have had more volunteers since the tsunami, including high school students who have written thank-you notes to donors, sent faxes and answered phones.

“We want to engage young people so that we can have future volunteers,” Hopkins said. “It’s promoting citizenship.”

Columbia students are making their mark in other ways.

The Desi Club at Hickman High School with a focus on South Asian culture, religion and politics, held a fund-raiser Jan. 29 that featured South Asian folk dancing and henna tattooing.

“The scope of this tragedy has been huge,” club president Rajni Chandrasekhar said. “People have seen the pictures, read the counts. It wasn’t something we had to inform people about.”

Students and parents from Ridgeway, Blue Ridge, Paxton Keeley, Midway, Rock Bridge, Russell and Benton elementary schools collected $5,467.

Elaine Johnson, director of youth ministries at Calvary Episcopal Church, said teens in her congregation came up on their own with the idea to sponsor a dessert auction and talent show. “I had no idea what to expect, how it was going to go,” she said.

In between acts such as skits and dance routines, the youths auctioned homemade desserts to about 75 people. The group collected $1,400 for the Episcopal Relief and Development Fund.

During a media drive last month, Hopkins watched a little boy empty his pockets, finding five nickels to place in the jar.

“I think he was aware of the sense of tragedy,” she said.

So were the elementary school kids in Shelbina.

And the Reebok shoebox kids.

Their $30 was enough to buy 15 sleeping mats, six mosquito nets to help fight malaria or two kitchen sets for a family of five.

“The loss of life and villages and towns was just so huge,” Hopkins said. “I think everybody felt they had to help.”

Heather R. Higgins and Tara Leitner of the Missourian staff contributed to this report.

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