Westboro sixth-graders collect winter clothing for Syrian refugees

Westboro sixth-graders collect winter clothing for Syrian refugeesimage

02 Nov 2015

The Syrian refugee crisis has spread to unbelievable proportions, creating the greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II. Hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing the country, attempting to escape the brutality of ISIS terrorists. The refugees are seeking asylum in Sweden, Hungary, Malta, Switzerland and other countries. In September, German president Angela Merkel said that she expected over 800,000 Syrians to enter the country this year.

As these are all colder countries, the Syrians, used to a hot desert environment, face an urgent need for warm clothes, including coats, hats and gloves.

Marie Hopkinson’s sixth-grade glass at Mill Pond School has stepped up to the challenge, initiating a “flash clothing drive,” where they collected clothes during a two-week period in October.

“We start our day with a morning meeting, where we discuss current events all over the world, as well as coming up with ideas concerning how we could alleviate certain problems,” Ms. Hopkinson said. “On one particular Friday morning, we were looking at a book which showed how small ideas could make a big impact. As we were talking about this, one boy raised his hand and said that he had been talking to his grandmother on the phone, and they were discussing what we could do to help the Syrian refugees.”

From that first suggestion, the idea caught fire, and soon the students were engaged in an active discussion about how they could help these displaced people.

“That led to a whole discussion about launching a coat drive,” Ms. Hopkinson said. “The kids were really enthusiastic about it right from the beginning. From there, we took it step by step, and spoke with the principal about getting her approval. Once that was dealt with, we started discussing the geography of Syria – what longitude and latitude it is, and where they’re moving, whether it’s Germany or somewhere even further north. At that point, we decided that winter coats, hats and mittens would be the best things to collect.”

From that point, the students began to get things rolling by themselves, sorting out the logistics of what a coat drive would entail. They collected coats from 10 home rooms, comprising about 150 students. They also set up a team of students to coordinate the drive, who were responsible for writing emails to the parents of the students, letting them know about the drive. Along the way, they also produced posters for various classrooms and made speeches stressing the importance of helping the refugees. Eventually, they amassed four huge trash bags full of clothes. Capping the whole thing off, the class received a special guest.

“The grandmother of the student that started the whole thing actually lives in Pennsylvania,” Ms. Hopkinson said. “She was visiting over Columbus Day weekend, so she came into the class on that Friday. The students all got to meet her, and she had a little ceremony where she collected the clothes, and took them away, whereupon they went to the Red Cross.”

Ms. Hopkinson pointed out that this drive fits perfectly into the Mill Pond School’s Character Education program, where students are encouraged to help out each other, as well as other members of the community.

“Every year, we hold a canned food drive for the Westboro Food Pantry,” she said. “That’s a schoolwide drive, where we collect hundreds of pounds of food throughout the month of November. We also hold another clothing drive in the spring to benefit a program in Brighton called Cradles to Crayons. They then distribute those clothes to needy families throughout Massachusetts.”

In all, Ms. Hopkinson said that the coat drive was a wonderful way to teach students about the lives of other people and how they can make a positive impact in so many lives.

“The Syrian refugee coat drive was perfect for us, because I teach geography,” she said. “So, it was a nice link between what the kids are learning in class and our existing service projects.”