Students in schools all across Jessamine County crouched in hallways during a tornado warning Wednesday, Feb. 29, and wondered if any of their homes would be in the path of the dangerous storms. And after another round of storms two days later when they found out the county had been spared, they turned their attention to helping those who had been less fortunate.
Preschoolers to high-school seniors have been collecting donations of money and needed items that will benefit those hit across the state by the deadly tornadoes March 2, including the town of West Liberty that was largely demolished.
Kindergarten teacher Angela Miller of Jessamine Early Learning Village said her students came in with a lot of questions last Tuesday, the first day they came back to school after leaving early because of storms Friday and then having a snow day Monday. She said the reality of the devastation became real to her students when they identified with the young victims who had lost their homes.
“When we had our discussions in the classroom, they said, ‘Oh, they don’t have to go to school; they can play all day.’ There’s no place to play,” Miller said. “With parents’ permission, I showed a picture or two and told them, ‘They don’t have the Wii; they don’t have electricity; they don’t have water.’ That’s when it really started hitting home more.”
Miller and family-resource-center director Joe Brannen began asking for donations to send to victims Tuesday and started receiving items before the letters even got home with the students. Families brought hygiene supplies, nonperishable food, pet supplies and even some nonnecessities.
“They did bring in coloring books and gently used toys because they were talking about a smile on a child’s face, which is kind of endearing that 5- and 6-year-olds are thinking outside the box and not so egocentric — that they’re thinking, ‘I don’t need this as much,’” Miller said.
After a kindergarten music performance Thursday night, the table of donations in the lobby was overflowing with goods with one load already taken away. The donations will go to the Kentucky State Police, who will distribute them to the areas of the greatest need.
More than 60 percent of the students at the school are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, but Brannen said the families who are in need themselves all across the county don’t excuse themselves from helping those in greater need.
“It doesn’t matter. They come, and they give stuff, and they make sacrifices; I don’t even think they think twice about it,” he said. “It’s not surprising; it’s par for the course. It just kind of blows your mind, because it’s constant. If I sent an e-mail out today saying we needed pencils, we would get 4,000 pencils from everybody.”
East and West Jessamine high schools have gotten into the act with donations sent to impacted areas at the end of each week as part of their “March Madness of Compassion” program. The middle schools have also been collecting items and money school-wide and in clubs.
Agriculture groups at Jessamine Career and Technology Center are working with other county groups like the extension office and the beef cattle association to assist farmers in the affected areas.
Elementary schools including Brookside and Nicholasville have already begun collecting donations. Nicholasville Elementary family-resource director Jessica Zeitz even heard from a parent of a third-grader who used her birthday money to buy donations.
At JELV, which holds all the preschoolers and kindergartners in the district, Miller said she has seen the community of Jessamine County show its caring.
“It’s really neat to walk in every day and see some families that struggle themselves to bring other stuff in to help others,” she said.