Going back and forth between their classroom and a truck waiting outside Cathedral School in Superior, students in Amber Nielsen's class loaded 78 boxes destined for Puerto Rican hurricane victims into the truck on Friday afternoon.
"Good job, kids. Keep going," Nielsen encouraged as some students carried smaller individual boxes and others worked together to carry the larger boxes.
The boxes contained 30 dresses, 494 pairs of pants, 61 sets of pajamas, 859 shirts, 52 pairs of shoes, more than 350 hygiene and cleaning products, 20 diaper gift sets, 84 nonperishable food items and 174 stuffed animals, in addition to eight boxes full of bedding - all items collected by Nielsen's fifth-graders.
The students also wrote a letter, translated by Cathedral's Spanish teacher, to the recipients of the items to wish them Merry Christmas. Nielsen said her students became sad while watching a CNN report on the aftermath of this year's devastating hurricanes that stated, "It looks like it's going to be a dark Christmas for many." A few students cried at that line.
"It hits you," she said. "They put so much heart into it. So much heart and so much work."
The service learning project began at the start of the school year and has grown bigger than the students imagined, with Four Corners and Cooper elementary schools joining the effort. Bishop James Powers pointed out to the students on Friday afternoon how the love of God "catches on" and creates a ripple effect, especially heading into Christmas.
After Powers blessed Halvor Lines' truck, it left the school on Friday afternoon destined for Latino Leadership Inc. in Orlando, Fla., which is helping a school in Barranquitas, Puerto Rico, that was badly damaged by Hurricane Maria. The hygiene products collected at Four Corners and Cooper will go to Hurricane Harvey victims in Texas.
Jon Vinje, president of Halvor Lines, said in a statement, "The hard work and dedication of the Cathedral School students and faculty are both remarkable and touching. It is a privilege to carry their donations on their way to their final destination."
Nielsen's fifth-graders said they saw the news about the hurricanes hitting Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. They wanted to collect clothes, food and hygiene products for the hurricane victims and asked people to donate items, said Cathedral fifth-grader Michael Jarmin. He said this is the first time he's worked on a service project of this size.
Ava Gudowski, a fifth-grader at Cathedral, said that the project taught them to be grateful for what they have and taught them to help people. They learned that it's better to give than receive, fifth-grader Caleb Moen said, explaining, "You learn that life can change at any moment."
Nielsen said the students complete service learning projects throughout the school year because the school's mission is faith, knowledge and service. The students use "KWL" - what they know, what they wonder and what they learned - and not many of them knew a lot about hurricanes when they started the project.
"I honestly think the kids get more out of service than they do out of a book. When you connect service to the curriculum, it's doing. We learned about hurricanes and then we watched the destruction and then the kids planned and fundraised and then started collecting, sorting and folding and boxing and taping and labeling," she said.