Being poor doesn't mean you can't give to those in need. The kids at Virgie Robinson Elementary School in Pasco proved that.
While edging out wealthier schools in a food drive last month, the students from East Pasco also collected a record amount of loose change -- and quite a few bills -- for a cancer charity.
This week, Gerry Brazington, a fifth-grade teacher at the school and co-adviser of the Associated Student Body, sent more than $3,000 to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, which supports blood cancer research and care.
The kids from one of the poorest neighborhoods in the Tri-Cities -- 96 percent of the school's students are eligible for free lunches -- collected that amount with only initial assistance from teachers.
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Brazington in December asked the 30 students of the ASB if they wanted to raise money for the charity, as other classes had done in the previous two years. He explained to the 8- to-11-year-olds that leukemia is a type of cancer.
"I asked them if any of them had a relative with cancer," Brazington said. "A lot of them did."
Once the pint-sized student leaders knew the purpose of their efforts and were given the tools -- cardboard piggy banks to hand out in class -- they took over the fundraiser.
On the first school day after the Christmas break, the ASB students fanned out across their school. Each student visited a classroom and asked students to collect change for the charity. Public speaking typically is not a strength of pre-teens, but the kids got right to the point.
"I said they should collect money in the boxes for leukemia," said Isela Garcia, a fourth-grader who's the ASB vice president.
"It's so we can help people," Javier Zurita said he told his classroom. The ASB secretary is in the third grade.
The students heeded the call. Each week, the 30 ASB members returned to the classrooms to collect. And each week, they brought in more money.
Last year's effort raised $570, but this year's tally quickly beat that amount.
The fundraiser officially ended Jan. 31, but the money kept coming.
This week, Brazington finally took the buckets of change to be deposited. Having no luck at two banks, he ended up at the change machine inside Yoke's Foods in Kennewick. He had a lot of coins to count.
"I was there for three hours," Brazington said. "The machine got jammed up and my hands were black from the coins."
Seeing a man pour bucket after bucket of coins into the machine naturally roused the curiosity of staff and customers in the store.
Several people asked him what he was doing. When he told them, many reached into their pockets, adding another $150 to the donations.
Brazington said he heard comments such as, "I wish our school had done that," and "You must have really special kids."
He couldn't agree more. "They're just phenomenal," he said.
The kids not only collect money for charity once a year, they also help each other every day, sharing lunches or warm coats, Brazington said.
"They're like a little family," he said. "They know how to take care of each other."
And of cancer patients they never have met.