A flood of support for victims of tsunami

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Students at May Watts Elementary School in Chicago held an emergency meeting last week to discuss something that's been tugging at them since winter break: how to raise funds for tsunami victims.

They considered having a hot cocoa stand or a bake sale at their school in Naperville, just outside Chicago, but settled on a "loose change" drive, which began Jan. 3. A few miles away in LaGrange, students at Lyons Township High School set a goal to raise $25,000 with a dance marathon and other events in the coming weeks.

They represent just a couple of the many fund-raising efforts initiated by young Americans who were stunned by the disaster's enormity and the fact that so many people their age have been affected.

In Southeast Missouri, elementary students in Cape Girardeau are learning how to be compassionate by giving their extra change for the tsunami relief effort. During this month, the students' character lesson is on compassion. The tsunami relief was a practical way to teach the lesson. All the money, collected in jars set out at the school buildings, will be donated to the Red Cross International Response Fund at the end of the month.

Students at St. Mary Cathedral School have a "dress down for disaster victims" day planned. Students can make a donation to help tsunami survivors and opt out of wearing their uniform to school, said principal Carol Strattman.

Catholic parishes in the area collected money during Mass over the weekend for the Catholic Relief Agency. Schools held their own collections last Friday.

Students at Trinity Lutheran School have learned about the work of World Relief, an aid organization active in Asia, during chapel services. Fifth-grade students have put up posters to keep the disaster in students' minds, and spare change collections will be gathered.

A chance to give back

Aid organizations have been receiving money collected by young people from New York to Chicago and all the way west to Mercer Island, Wash., where 8-year-old twins George and Themio Pallis sought donations in the cold with their mom outside a grocery store.

"I felt sad for the people who truly needed the money, the food, the blankets and that stuff," says Themio, who has tracked tsunami coverage on the Internet and TV.

Earlier last week, he and his brother personally delivered $5,660 to World Vision, one of several aid organizations that focus on children. And, since then, fellow students and their families have been donating more.

George hopes their efforts will inspire people elsewhere to get involved: "I hope they'll say 'Wow! They must've done a good job' and 'I hope all the money will go to help people,"' he says.

Other organizations that help children also are receiving donations from young people.

The Naperville students, for instance, will send the money they raise to Do Something, an aid organization that has set up a fund to help students and schools in areas hardest hit by the tsunami.

Brigid Fenlon, a senior who's helping organize fund raising, says she was inspired by countries that supported the United States after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"We've been on the receiving end of all this help for so long," the 17-year-old says. "I saw this as our opportunity to give back in a similar way."

Alex Scharfman, a 16-year-old in Scarsdale, N.Y., was similarly motivated.

"Just because it doesn't happen nearby doesn't mean it doesn't need attention," the high school junior says. "I feel like it deserves the same attention [as Sept. 11] if not more."

Also inspired by the yellow LIVESTRONG bracelet he wears -- a fund-raiser for the Lance Armstrong Foundation -- Alex and 14-year-old friend Maia Pillot decided to have their own bracelets made to raise money for tsunami survivors.

Their bands, sold for $10, are royal blue and carry one of two messages: "Flood of Support" or "Ocean of Strength." Proceeds will go to an aid organization.

College students across the country are also organizing relief efforts as they return from winter break.

Staff writer Charlotte Pierce contributed to this report.

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