Dec. 16--A group of Edward Stone Middle School students descended upon Walmart's shelves and clothing racks Friday in search of the perfect gifts for six children they adopted for Christmas.
The shopping trip was made possible by $1,656 raised in nine days through a school-wide penny war, the idea for which sprung from the minds of students in the Community Builders Club, a seventh-grade leadership club Principal Angie Butler started at the school this year.
"The whole purpose of the club is to build climate and culture within the school and the community," Butler said.
The idea to adopt a family came about after another act of Christmas kindness they had organized ended in tragedy.
The club was in the process of gathering handmade Christmas cards from other students to send to Jacob Thompson of Portland, Maine. The 9-year-old boy had been diagnosed with neuroblastoma four years ago. The cancer progressed to Stage 4, and Thompson knew he wouldn't live long enough to see Christmas. His last wish was for people to send him Christmas cards and to celebrate his favorite holiday early.
The Edward Stone students joined thousands of people from throughout the U.S. in making cards decorated with his favorite things: penguins, "Minecraft," Legos, "Star Wars" and penguins.
"Everybody (in the school) just went all out to make this boy's wish come true, and it was awesome," said Caleb Mehaffy, 12, a member of Community Builders Club, as he searched for a Honolulu blue coat for a 9-year-old boy whose favorite sports team is the Detroit Lions. "Every single class came together."
Thompson died Nov. 19, one week after he celebrated an early Christmas with his family. His death came before the Edward Stone students sent their Christmas cards, so they instead sent them to his family.
Saddened by Thompson's death but determined to help others have the best Christmas possible, the students decided to adopt a family with a penny war.
"I called the Salvation Army and said, 'Give me a family with lots and lots of kids,'" Butler said.
Club members put up posters throughout the school, posted to Facebook and made announcements over the loudspeakers at school to spread the word about the penny war, as well as inspire competition.
"It got pretty heated," Butler said.
Each homeroom had its own bucket. Coins placed in the buckets added to each class's penny count, and bills were subtracted.
"So you had kids running around putting $5 bills in other buckets so they would lose (500 pennies)," said Michael Carper, the technology integration coach for Edward Stone and Aldo Leopold middle schools.
Staff got in on it, too. Will Wiemann sold popcorn from his classroom, dropping the bills he received into other classrooms' buckets and keeping the change for his classroom. Butler used a similar tactic, putting bills in buckets to egg on the competition.
"I was antagonizing them a little bit," she said.
Wiemann's eighth grade homeroom's final count, which exceeded $250, won the war and earned the class an ice cream party. Each student in the homeroom was able to enter their name into a drawing to accompany the Community Builders Club on their shopping trip. Emma Wittkamp, 13, won the drawing.
Wittkamp and Carper paired up with a cart and set out to find all things Paris for the 13-year-old girl for whom they were shopping. Among the items they found was a large print of Paris' city scape, complete with the Eiffel Tower. Carper, who taught social studies before becoming a technology integration coach, took it as an opportunity to teach. He told Wittkamp the Eiffel Tower was built for the city's first fair and that the first Ferris wheel was erected in Chicago as a response to the tower's construction.
"You realize how fortunate you are," Wittkamp said of this time of year and the surge of generosity throughout the school.
In addition to the money brought in by the penny war, school staff put together a gift wrapping basket so the parents of the six children will have plenty of wrapping paper with which to wrap the day's purchases.
It's a good thing they did, because it will take a whole lot of paper to wrap the large dollhouse Kassandra Sly, 13, struggled to put in her cart for a 10-year-old girl whose name she doesn't know.
"We buy the best things we can find for them," said Sly, who donned an elf hat and elf ears for the occasion.
The season brought out the spirit of generosity in Walmart as well. The company gave the club gift cards totaling $175 to put toward Christmas for another family.
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