Collecting coins: Penny drive to help school rebuild

Tightly grasping handfuls of pennies, kindergartners dropped them into large collection buckets this week at Wapakoneta Elementary School.

As they gave all the pennies they had they said they were donating them to help fix the “broken school.”

They brought with them from home not just their pennies, but nickels, dimes, quarters and even dollar bills — anything they could find — to help students just like them who had lost part of their school to a tornado earlier this year.

“I know how I would feel if a tornado went through and destroyed everything,” fourth-grader Kaitlin Krebs said as she counted change to send to Center Point Elementary School in Jefferson County, Ala.

Classmate Makenzie Wilson said they were raising the money hoping to help rebuild the school.

The students were surprised by how much they were able to collect in just two days.

The Wapakoneta Education Association sponsored the drive as a means to help others and chose a penny drive because they are something everyone has.

“It is our hope that such a tragedy never occurs in our community, but we know that if it did, many other communities would come to our aid,” said fourth-grade teacher Connie Ferenbaugh, who organized the drive at Wapakoneta Elementary.

She said it was their hope that each student would help out with a small handful of pennies, so that they could give students in Alabama the hand-up they needed to get back into their school — to help rebuild and restock the building, which housed 620 kindergarten through second-grade students in suburban Birmingham, Ala.

Approximately 70 percent of the school was damaged significantly in the Jan. 23 tornado and will have to be demolished, Center Point Principal Laura Kirkpatrick said.

Areas receiving the most damage and requiring rebuilding include the second-grade wing, half of the kindergarten classroom, offices, art and music rooms, and special education classrooms.

One wing, not badly damaged, is to be saved, and the cafeteria and gymnasium will require repairs, including a new roof, but will not have to be rebuilt, Kirkpatrick said. The school library was in the section left least damaged by the storm.

In addition to the school, several students and faculty members also lost their own homes and property in the winter tornado.

“We have been incredibly blessed by so many people wanting to help us,” Kirkpatrick told the Wapakoneta Daily News. “We have been amazed by the generosity, which has allowed us to focus on educating and nurturing.”

The support has meant even more considering needs throughout the state after damage left by tornados that hit in the spring of 2011 as well.

“So many organizations stepped up to help at that time, and I guess I thought they might not have the resources to help us in January, but they did,” Kirkpatrick said.

She said help has poured in from schools, community organizations, businesses and individuals.

They do not have a figure to date of how much has been donated to help rebuild and repair the school, but donations helped allow students to return to class a mile down the road a week and a half after the tornado struck as they now share a campus with an intermediate and middle school.

Donations continue to be applied to rebuilding efforts, but additional supplies and books, which also were donated, recently were sent home with students. The donations were left over after the school staff pulled what they needed to keep at the school.

“The students were so excited and were all saying ‘thank you,’” Kirkpatrick said. “I explained to them that the bags were put together with things that other boys and girls had donated for them. I told them that the best way to say ‘thank you’ was to do the same thing for somebody else one day.”

The principal said they continue to use donations as needs arise and they have been very helpful for teachers who lost their classrooms and everything inside. They also are working on creating a healing garden at their current location, which the children love.