By Claudia Mathis
ONEIDA — Nick Stoker, fifth grader at St. Patrick’s School in Oneida, donated many of the shirts he was no longer wearing to a special project conducted at his school. Spearheaded by the fifth graders, the successful children’s clothing drive will benefit children living in Okolona, Miss., an area which was devastated by recent tornados.
“It felt really good to give them my shirts, because I knew that they needed them,” said Nick.
The students learned of the Southern children’s plight from their principal, Peg Brown. She had heard about the devastation from her sister, Sister Liz Brown, CSJ, who is the founder and executive director of EXCEL, Inc., a community organization that focuses on furthering education and promoting, building and fostering healthy lives in Okolona.
As a former teacher and principal in the Syracuse Diocese, Sister Liz saw a need to improve the educational level in Okolona when she moved to the area 25 years ago. At first, her intent was to work in parish ministry. She developed an after-school program to enhance the children’s education. “It has grown by leaps and bounds,” noted Brown. To fund the program, Sister Liz offers used clothing for sale in her store.
Excel, Inc. is working earnestly to help the people whose lives were devastated by the tornados. “My sister shared with me how dire the circumstances there are, as most people have nothing more than the clothes on their backs at the time the tornados hit,” said Brown.
Brown informed the students of the situation during prayer time at school. She told them about how the residents’ dwellings, which were little more than shacks, had been leveled during the storms. The students also watched a video in which bath tubs and vehicles were shown flying through the air.
When Brown asked her sister what St. Patrick’s School could do to help, Sister Liz suggested that the students conduct a children’s clothing drive.
“The children were really excited about helping,” said Brown. She sent a letter to the parents, informing them of the drive and specifying the need for children’s lightweight play clothes, shoes and especially underwear and socks.
The students’ response to the plea has been remarkable. They’ve been very generous with donations of clothing as well as monetary contributions amounting to $300. Some of the children have even donated their money that was earmarked for ice cream purchases. “They’ve been very compassionate,” said Brown.
The fifth graders, who have been sorting the clothing and charting the donations, have shipped two of the eight boxes that have been packed so far.
Scott Potter contributed to the cause by logging the clothing contributions on a large chart and folding, sorting and packing the clothing and carrying the boxes to the front entrance of the school to be shipped out. He is certain that he is doing the right thing by helping out. “It’s good to help people, even though we don’t know them,” Scott said.
Brown said that her sister is delighted with the contributions.
Brown feels that the clothing drive has been a positive experience for her students. “It’s teaching them to recognize a need and to do something about it,” she said.
Brown said that the school is in need of monetary donations for the cost of shipping the clothing. To donate, call St. Patrick’s School at (315) 363-3620.