Pennies for Haiti

Austin elementary students collect $1,000 to help survivors

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By LA RISA LYNCH

When Austin student Alisha Webb saw pictures of quake-stricken Haiti she knew she wanted to help.

So when her school, Frances Scott Key Elementary, announced a penny drive for Haiti only days after the massive earthquake leveled the island nation's capital city of Port-au-Prince, the fifth grader brought in three bags of coins stuffed with pennies, nickels and dimes.

"This town (Haiti) is really poor, and if they are poor and don't have any money I needed to bring that in," Webb said. "I just wanted to help out."

Classmate Cleveland Clark also dug deep into his and his family members' pockets to bring in 300 pennies.

"When I first heard about Haiti, I was sad. But then when I heard about the coin drive at the school, I just thought I could bring in as much money as I can," Clark said.

Within four days of starting the school-wide coin drive, Key students amassed $876.60. The students collected $600 in coins with dollar bills rounding out the rest. The school donated the money to the Red Cross Haiti relief efforts. The drive went from Jan. 19-22.

Key's lead literacy teacher Anna Baskin-Tines proposed the coin drive after seeing the earthquake's devastation. News reports of injured babies, lost children and the lack of basic necessities like food and water was "heartbreaking," Baskin-Tines said.

She was compelled to involve Key School, 517 N. Parkside, in the relief efforts with the blessing of the school's principal. But she never imagined this kind of response. Parents, grandmothers, aunts and uncles, she noted, brought in bags of coins or sent money via their students.

"I thought we were going to get something, because I know our kids have big hearts, but never was I thinking they were really going to raise almost a thousand dollars," Baskin-Tines, adding that she was "very proud" of the parent and student participation.

"We have a heart," she said. "They were willing to help people that were not even next door to them, but from another country. They wanted to do what they could."

To reward the students, the school is planning a popcorn day, but Baskin-Tines was hoping to have Red Cross officials come to the school to receive the coins. Understanding that the relief agency must be overwhelmed, Baskin-Tines said the acknowledgement would have been a morale booster for the students. The school donated the money online via the Red Cross Web site.

Webb and Clark's class took top honors for collecting the most with $300, but their efforts where buoyed by their teacher Janice Thompson. Her family members already planned to give to the relief effort, but decided to give the money to Thompson's class instead. Still, the teacher was proud of her students' compassion.

"They thought about someone more themselves. They were willing to give," Thompson said, adding instead of buying taffy apples, some students donated that money to the coin drive.

But her class was not to be outdone. A third-grade class came in second collecting $86, mainly to help Haitian children. Tavell Gross gave, "because people are dying, and we need to raise money so they can go to the hospital."

Key wasn't the only Austin school moved by the tragedy. Students at Nash Elementary School, 4832 W. Erie, also collected loose change, approximately $105.71 during their two-day coin drive from Jan. 27-28. The kids said they wanted to help so Haiti can rebuild, get medical supplies and water. Others said if something similar was to happen in the United States, people would do the same.

"People need to build their houses back up," said Deja Robinson, a Nash fifth grader. "They don't have anything."

The students also plan to donate the funds to the Red Cross. But the kids are taking their fundraising efforts a step further with a canned-goods food drive.

While the amount may not be a lot, Nash Principal Teresa Dunbar said many of her students, who come from improvised backgrounds, felt the need to give. "Everyone had something to offer whether it is a penny, dime or dollar."

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