KOKOMO, Ind. — Second-graders at Wallace School of Integrated Arts banded together last week to help tornado-affected students.

The students presented Sunshine Baskets to the United Way of Howard County Monday. The bags included school supplies, health and beauty supplies, toys and hand-written notes from the students.

It started when the students went to their teachers and said they wanted to find a way to help. Teachers Tera Pollard, Joy Myers and Julie Staley went to the United Way and asked how they could.

“You see, many of us were asking our teachers how we could help the Wallace families that were affected by the Kokomo tornadoes,” one student said at the presentation Monday.

“We put our heads together and decided we wanted to bring a little sunshine to the kids who had lost so much,” another student said.

Abbie Smith, president of the United Way of Howard County, said she encouraged them to think about what their own children would want if they’d lost their things in a tornado – things like toys, new school supplies.

Staley said Smith asked them to really focus on students, who can often be overlooked after disasters, especially once immediate needs are taken care of. And the project was not only for students, it was led by students, she said.

“They realized they can make a difference,” Pollard said.

Smith spoke Monday at the school’s presentation, where she and other United Way leaders accepted the donations.

“I love your big hearts,” she told the students.

She asked the students if they know what United Way does. Several said yes, and she asked them what the United Way does.

“Help!” Some students shouted.

“We help people!” She said. “Actually that’s not true. We help people help other people.”

She said she loves how the students reached out, wanting to help.

“Sometimes people just need to know that they have a friend, right?” she said. “And we’re friends in this community, and friends help other friends. So you guys are being great friends today, and we love your big hearts.”

The school collected donations last week. Each grade was asked to bring different items. Kindergarteners donated snacks, first- and fifth-graders donated toys, second-graders donated gift cards, third-graders donated health and beauty items, fourth-graders donated school supplies.

The school sent a flier home with students asking parents to donate.

“As responsible citizens it is our obligation to give back to our community,” the flier read. “We hope that your child will find great joy in service . So, let’s make a difference at Wallace School of Integrated Arts!”

The students focused on Wallace students who were affected, but they saw so many donations they were able to provide 32 baskets to students at other Kokomo schools as well.

Hannah Lindley, a second-grader in Staley’s class, said she thought the project was fun, and it was all about collecting items to make kids happy.

Lili Alter, a second-grader in Pollard’s class, said she thought it was a smart thing to do.

“It should make people really happy,” she said. “If I was affected, I would be happy.”

She was surprised by how much they were able to gather in just a week.

Kinsley Marshland, a second-grader in Myers’ class, wrote a note to go along with one of the baskets.

“I hope you enjoy this stuff,” she said she wrote in the note.

The teachers also worked the project into their arts-focused curriculum. The school’s main focus is integrated arts, meaning they try to integrate arts into every aspect of learning. While they were asking for donations and working through the service project, the teachers led the students through skits and songs to not only get them excited about the project but help them focus on the importance of it, Staley said.

“It was more than just a community service project,” Staley said. “We were able to tie it into the arts program.”

Source: Kokomo Tribune, http://bit.ly/2d7En0D

Information from: Kokomo Tribune, http://www.ktonline.com

This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by the Kokomo Tribune.