Serious work pulls in plenty of playthings

Sixth-grade trio’s toy drive nets 200 items for families in need

schandler@newsobserver.comJanuary 13, 2013 

Cleveland Middle & Alliance Holiday Toy Drive 2012

COURTESY OF ALAN WOLF

Sometimes in this universe, two dots get connected to make good things happen.

In this case, the first dot was the Alliance Medical Ministry in Raleigh and its desire to find someone to host a toy drive for the clinic’s families in need. The second dot was three best friends from Cleveland Middle School in Johnston County who happened to be looking for a community service project around the holidays.

The dots were connected when a friend of Abbey Finn’s mom, who works with Alliance Medical Ministry, mentioned the toy drive idea to Abbey’s mom.

“And that’s pretty much how it started,” said Abbey.

Abbey and her friends Alexis Killin and Hannah Wolf, all sixth graders, got together and made a plan. But first they had to get the greenlight from school officials.

They were savvy enough to know that going straight to the principal was going to be tough, so they sought a teacher who could help get things started. They came up with a short pitch, and after a few dead ends they found an ally in science teacher Christine Gross.

Gross had the girls run their idea past the school’s student government, and then it was time to get the principal on board.

“A couple days later, he approved it,” Abbey said. “So then we just had to make posters and fliers and put it all out. And he made announcements and then one day we got to make announcements and then everybody started donating.”

The drive ran Dec. 3-14, with boxes set up around the school to collect donations. The girls, who live near the school, decided to distribute fliers in their neighborhoods as well, promising to return the following weekend to collect donations left on people’s front porches.

Maybe because it was a busy time of year, or maybe because people just tend to procrastinate, things got off to a slow start, the girls said.

“We kind of set our expectations low because nobody was donating” at first, Alexis said.

“But at the last minute everybody donated and we had a ton,” Abbey added.

More precisely, the girls collected around 200 new, unwrapped toys – things like stuffed animals, board games, Barbies, books, even one iPod Touch. The toys were given to around 20 families recommended by Alliance Medical Ministry workers.

Before they dropped off the toys at the ministry, which provides affordable health care to uninsured working adults, Abbey, Alexis and Hannah arranged the donations on the stage in their school cafeteria.

That’s the part that Hannah said was most fun: “Setting up all the displays and showing everybody everything that we got.”

Also fun was working as a team with good friends, the girls said.

“We’ve been best friends for a long time,” Abbey said, “and we love working together.”

Amid all the fun, the girls learned a lot from their first community service project, they said.

“It was a lot of responsibility,” Alexis said, adding that it took planning and organization to find time to make fliers, collect donations and do all the work that went into the project.

The girls also got good at presenting their case, Abbey said, from making pitches at the beginning to teachers and the student government to showing off the donations the drive collected at the end.

They’re already taking what they’ve learned and thinking about next Christmas, they said.

After all, Hannah said, “on the announcements, our principal said ‘first annual toy drive’.” It was news to the girls, but not unwelcome.

“So I guess it’s going to be an annual thing!” Abbey said.

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