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Class raises $500 plus, donates gifts

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: KATIE WILSON - Scappoose teacher Jeanne Palin leads her second-grade class from Grant Watts Elementary to the donation tables at the Scappoose Fire District station. The class raised $546 and spent the money on gifts to donate to Share and Care, which benefits needy families in Scappoose.For much of this last year, Jeanne Palin’s second grade class at Grant Watts Elementary in Scappoose has been running a small business.

Their storefront was a repurposed lemonade stand; their product, 50 cent wildflower “seed balls.” They constructed an ad campaign, kept a record of their transactions and quietly raised more than $500.

At this time of year, classrooms typically throw small parties where students exchange Christmas gifts. Palin’s second graders, as well as other Grant Watts students, acting on a challenge decided to do something different. They decided to give rather than receive.

“The response was amazing,” said Tami McDonald, counselor at Grant Watts. “Not one child complained.”

Rachel’s Challenge, named after Rachel Scott, the first victim in the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, is a program geared toward good works and the belief that small actions can have a big impact.

Her second-graders proved that this year, Palin said.

On Dec. 13, Palin worked at her office late into the night, sorting through coupons and organizing. The next morning, the class would board a school bus, drive to Fred Meyer and spend the money it had raised to buy toys, games, slippers, glove and blankets to donate to Share and Care, a food, toy and clothing drive for needy Scappoose families.

The project took on a life of its own with Palin’s class. The students were still filling orders for seed balls late into December and, when they ran out of seed, one parent drove all the way to Portland for more. By then, they had the process down to assembly-line perfection: forming the seed balls, packaging them in brown bag packets, punching breathing holes for the seeds.

“This is the craziest thing I’ve ever done,” Palin said. “It just took off.”

“The kids were so intrinsically motivated because they knew they were helping others,” McDonald said.

Second grader Kennady Decker can describe in fine detail the blanket she picked out at Fred Meyer on Dec. 14. It was white and pink with a hood and topped with a bow, she said. She placed it proudly on a donation table set up at the Scappoose Fire District station.

“I get lots of stuff for Christmas and other people don’t get so much,” Palin’s student Katie Sprute explained after she dropped off her donation at the Scappoose Fire District office. Long tables stretched behind her, loaded with donations from across the county.

Some of the very students who worked so hard to raise money to buy gifts for others might (without knowing it) be Share and Care recipients, said Cheryl Engstrom, of the Scappoose Fire District.

But that thought didn’t seem to occur to any of them. Instead, they talked excitedly about each gift they purchased, about why another kid might enjoy it.

In a way, the decision to give rather than to receive put all the students on equal footing.

“Kids who can’t afford to buy gifts [for a gift exchange] don’t feel left out,” McDonald said. Some parents bought multiple gifts for donation and, meanwhile, with the money they raised from selling the seed balls, they could all purchase a gift to donate.

For her 26 students, Palin said the reward came from “really looking and thinking hard about what people want for Christmas and what people need for Christmas” and finding a way to marry the two.

“It was the giving part,” Palin said. “And being able to choose what to give.”