Project inspires drive for toiletries for homeless
KIM DAMEAnthony Crooks, a seventh grader at Gulf Coast Academy, needed a "Pay it Forward" project for school.
Published: December 6, 2012
Published: December 6, 2012
The project had to build on a charitable theme and required a business letter to an organization, the preparation of a spreadsheet and a presentation booklet for a project that helps the community in Hernando County.
His mother, Lisa Crooks, teaches in the reading lab at West Hernando Middle School and stumbled upon a newspaper article hanging in the office. The article was about an organization, run by the PTA President Tina Tauriello, that collects items for the homeless.
Lisa mentioned it to Anthony, who then began researching for his project. He contacted Tauriello for more information about the Kid's Closet organization. She told him that toiletries were on the list of requested items.
Anthony dug deeper, writing a business letter to Shanika Figueroa, the Student and Families Transition Liaison of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education for Hernando County, requesting information about homeless students in Hernando County.
She sent him brochures and posters outlining facts about homelessness and how it affects a child's learning. Anthony discovered that as many as 700 students in Hernando County were considered homeless.
Even more impactful to him was the realization that something as simple as a bar of soap or a toothbrush, what he and his peers took for granted, was actually nonexistent in some children's lives.
To Anthony, the facts were difficult to digest. The information lit the spark behind his project to collect toiletries for the homeless, which he would then donate to Kids Closet.
With the help of his mother and approval from WHMS principal Carmine Ruffa, Toiletry Thursday was designated at West Hernando Middle School. Anthony's father would drive him to the school after dismissal at Gulf Coast Academy. Anthony would then sit behind a collection table set up in the office.
Toiletry Thursday became a school-wide event, prompting the students and teachers to find items to donate. Many of them, like Anthony, had no idea how many of their fellow peers were without these basic items.
The class who collected the most items would receive a party paid for by the PTA.
"My goal was to collect $50," Anthony said. At the end of the project, he had collected 364 items at a value of $306.
The story doesn't end there. West Hernando Middle School continued the project even after Anthony had turned in all of his requirements. For another three weeks, the students and teachers continued to bring in items for the collection. Some even went to area businesses, asking for donations.
The class with the most donated items, more than 1,000, was a combination between two Exceptional Student Education (ESE) classes at the middle school; Ms. Anderson's and Mrs. Schaffer's classes. They include about 20 students with various learning exceptionalities.
Lisa Crooks was surprised by the amount of participation of these students.
"The students in my class were so excited and asked to gather the toiletries, make posters for the project and post a chart about the items collected," she said. "They made the project bigger than it was."
When asked why the project was so important to her, seventh-grader Alexis said, "I like helping people because that is what I am supposed to do."
Twelve-year-old Harlee agreed. "I like sharing," she said.
"It was fun to collect stuff," Jacob added. He especially liked collecting toilet paper.
The common theme among these students was the generosity of their charitable hearts. They seemed surprised by the question of why, as if giving was just a natural part of who they are.
The two winning classes combined on Thursday to celebrate their accomplishments with a pizza party. Anderson and Schaffer, along with para-professionals Ms. Lynn, Ms. Barbara, Ms. Chris and Ms. Diane, were present to recognize the generosity of their students.
The project became more than Anthony's assignment. It also served as an educational experience for the students of West Hernando Middle.
For Anthony, his project was an eye opener.
"I was thrilled that I inspired the students at WHMS to donate toiletries," he wrote in his presentation. "This project will impact many homeless people in the community. My charity will be able to give a set of toiletries to approximately 150 families."