CHICAGO – Students at May Watts Elementary School held an emergency meeting this week to discuss something that's been tugging at them since winter break: how to raise funds for tsunami victims.
They considered having a hot cocoa stand or a bake sale at their school in Naperville, just outside Chicago, but settled on a "loose change" drive, which begins Monday. A few miles away in LaGrange, students at Lyons Township High School set a goal to raise $25,000 with a dance marathon and other events in the coming weeks.
They represent just a couple of the many fund-raising efforts initiated by young Americans who were stunned by the disaster's enormity and the fact that so many people their age have been affected.
Aid organizations have been receiving money collected by young people from New York to Chicago and all the way west to Mercer Island, Wash., where 8-year-old twins George and Themio Pallis sought donations in the cold with their mom outside a grocery store.
"I felt sad for the people who truly needed the money, the food, the blankets and that stuff," says Themio, who has tracked tsunami coverage on the Internet and TV.
Earlier this week, he and his brother personally delivered $5,660 to World Vision, one of several aid organizations that focus on children. And, since then, fellow students and their families have been donating more.
George hopes their efforts will inspire people elsewhere to get involved: "I hope they'll say 'Wow! They must've done a good job' and 'I hope all the money will go to help people,'" he says.
Other organizations that help children also are receiving donations from young people.
The Naperville students, for instance, will send the money they raise to Do Something, an aid organization that has set up a fund to help students and schools in areas hardest hit by the tsunami.
Meanwhile, Karolina Bohn, an 8-year-old in Reston, Va., rounded up a few friends to go door-to-door in their neighborhood to collect $520 for UNICEF.
And on Friday, students at Convent of the Visitation School, a Catholic K-12 school in Mendota Heights, Minn., ended their week with an "out of uniform day," making a donation of at least $1 to be able to wear street clothes. They'll divide their collection between the nonprofit AmeriCares and a private fund for the people of Phuket, Thailand, set up by the family of a recent graduate who survived the tsunami.
Brigid Fenlon, a senior who's helping organize fund-raising, says she was inspired by countries that supported the United States after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"We've been on the receiving end of all this help for so long," the 17-year-old says. "I saw this as our opportunity to give back in a similar way."
Alex Scharfman, a 16-year-old in Scarsdale, N.Y., was similarly motivated.
"Just because it doesn't happen nearby doesn't mean it doesn't need attention," the high school junior says. "I feel like it deserves the same attention (as 9/11) if not more."
Also inspired by the yellow LIVESTRONG bracelet he wears — a fund-raiser for the Lance Armstrong Foundation — Alex and 14-year-old friend Maia Pillot decided to have their own bracelets made to raise money for tsunami survivors.
Their bands, sold for $10, are royal blue and carry one of two messages: "Flood of Support" or "Ocean of Strength." Proceeds will go to an aid organization.
College students across the country are also organizing relief efforts as they return from winter break.
At the Milwaukee School of Engineering, students have donated hundreds of blankets to send to those in need in southeast Asia.
And at Connecticut College, senior Vipapat "Aim" Sinpeng and other students are organizing a memorial service and fund-raiser on Jan. 24 for tsunami victims, including those in Sinpeng's homeland, Thailand.
Sinpeng says she is heartened by all the aid various governments are giving, but even more by the response from average Americans.
"I think that's what I feel more touched by — is that people are going to their pockets and giving. It doesn't matter how much; it's the fact that they're giving," the 21-year-old says.
"The support is absolutely amazing."