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Help for Burns Lake; from one elementary school to another

After hearing of the Babine Forest Products disaster, Chalmers Elementary School students wanted to help.
(Top) Grade 7 student Jillian Hunt researched Burns Lake online before creating her poster featuring the Gateway to Tweedsmuir Park sign. (Bottom) Grade 6 student

Chalmers Elementary School in North Delta may seem like a world away from Burns Lake, but the students at the school have extended a hand of friendship by holding a fundraising drive for the students at William Konkin Elementary School.

After hearing of the Jan. 20, 2012 explosion and fire at the Babine Forest Products sawmill, Chalmers Elementary School teacher, Laura Masini Pieralli, supportive learning program teacher and students wanted to help.

As a previous resident of Burns Lake, Masini Pieralli had been a teacher at both William Konkin Elementary School and Lakes District Secondary School and she said she felt compelled to do something.

She said she asked her students what they thought they could do to help the community of Burns Lake.

"An idea for a coin drive came up and the students ran just with it," she said. They suggested that the proceeds should go to the students at William Konkin Elementary School.

"The kids were concerned that many of the William Konkin Elementary School students would be worried about what is going to happen in their community and worried because some of their parents or relatives may have been injured in the tragedy," Masini Pieralli said.

Starting on Jan. 30, 2012  Chalmers Elementary School held a week long coin drive to show they care about Burns Lake. Students brought in nickels on Monday, dimes on Tuesday, quarters on Wednesday, loonies on Thursday, and toonies on Friday, managing to raise $1,500. "Without any help, the students organized posters and a group of leadership students even gave up their lunch breaks to write up announcements and update the school with daily totals."

The coin drive was a whole school event.

"The kids loved being generous," Masini Pieralli said, adding that she had a call from a concerned parent whose Grade 1 student had come home asking for money 'for the explosion'. "The parents thought it maybe money needed for a science experiment at the school and I explained to them that it was a coin drive for the Babine Forest Products sawmill tragedy."

Piggy banks full of the students life savings were brought in for the cause and Masini Pieralli said one student was so eager to help he even donated his brother's piggy bank savings to the cause.

To promote the event, colorful posters were hung up around the school. Grade 6 student, Sahib Daula, 11, said to Lakes District News that he made three posters to promote the coin drive. On one of his posters he drew a beehive burner surrounded by flames. He drew fire crews putting out the flames with buckets of water spilling out the words 'hope', 'power', 'care' and 'help.'

Daula said the idea for his poster came from thinking of the sawmill workers and knowing they needed hope and care. "We care about Burns Lake," he said.

Amy Godmaire, Grade 5, created three posters, collected donations and helped count the tally for daily updates.

One of her posters said, 'show Burns Lake we care' and featured a pink piggy bank broken in half with coins rolling out. She said, "I wanted to help the students at William Konkin Elementary [School] and show them that we are thinking about them."

Jillian Hunt, Grade 7 student also created posters, collected money from classrooms and helped with the daily counting. "It is important and it shows that our school cares. We wanted to help the community of Burns Lake," she said.

Masini Pieralli said there has been some media attention surrounding the coin drive and she wanted to let everyone know that the students didn't do the fundrasier for any attention. "They did this because they genuinely care."

She added, many of the kids were not sure where Burns Lake was in the beginning. "I pulled out a map and showed them and they were amazed that Highway 16 goes in one side and comes out the other ... that there was just one road into the community.

As for what should be done with the $1,500 donation to William Konkin Elementary School, Chalmers Elementary School is not putting any stipulations on the donation.

"It can be used at the school's discretion," Masini Pieralli said.

Lisa Ketlo, William Konkin Elementary School principal said the school is grateful for the thoughtfulness and generosity shown to them by Chalmers Elementary School.

"We are grateful for the donation raised through their coin drive, and we will make sure that it is put to good use here at our school.  The heart felt response for the children here in Burns Lake,” she said.