CALCUTTA - As fourth-graders at Calcutta Elementary School prepared to wrap up their toy drive Friday morning, an announcement came over the intercom asking for a moment of silence for the victims of the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
It was a poignant moment that captured the spirit of Christmas that teachers have been trying to instill in their students these past few weeks.
Even as they've been collecting toys for patients at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, Calcutta Elementary students have been thinking about the shooting victims and their families.
Calcutta Elementary School fourth-graders (from left) Cierrah Thurik, 10, Kaitlin Blakovich, 10, and Isabel Bryer, 9, take a box of toys to a truck waiting outside the school Friday morning. The annual toy drive benefits children at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. (Photo by Stephen Huba)
Fourth-grade teacher Curt Kester gave his students a writing assignment, asking them, "If you could give anyone anything, what would it be?"
Kester said he was pleased with the selfless responses of the students who wanted to give a cure for cancer, help to a homeless person or life back to the shooting victims.
"That's the stuff that's on their minds," Kester said. "I found that heartwarming - the things they chose."
Fourth-grader Alexis Jordan wrote, "If I could give anyone anything, it would be to redo the day of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting."
Ian Sell wrote, "If I could give anyone anything, it would be a chance to change their life. And a chance to bring back the lives of those people who died at Sandy Hook Elementary."
Spencer Mattern wrote, "I would give to a homeless hobo that got hit by Hurricane Sandy." Several other students mentioned the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
Madison Millhorn wrote, "If I could give to an orphanage, I would (give) them money, food, (water), toys, a home, a family, heat and anything they would want or need."
Cameron Ash said he would give a "celebration picnic for the heroes," by which he meant police officers, firefighters and first-responders.
Essays that mentioned toys for children in need, or a cure for cancer, were apropos because Friday was the last day for the school's annual toy drive, organized with the help of fourth-grade teacher Steve Hall.
The toy drive was started in 2007 by retired Beaver Local Middle School math teacher Rick Salsberry, whose daughter, Lindsey, died that same year of cancer. A patient at Children's Hospital, Lindsey had befriended a 9-year-old girl whom she wanted to give a gift to on Christmas.
After Lindsey's death, Salsberry decided to start a toy drive in her memory. The first year, the drive supplied toys for all the children in the oncology unit. In 2008, gifts went to patients and their siblings.
"It was so easy to get 100 toys there," Salsberry said. "It's just blossomed ever since."
Calcutta Elementary has been participating in the toy drive for three years, sending a note home to parents asking for a new toy, a new game or art supplies valued at about $5.
Enough toys are collected now to give to every patient in the hospital for Christmas - and then some.
"It lasts all year long," Salsberry said. "That's the spirit of Christmas."