- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 20, 2008

RINCON, Ga. (AP) — Days after the deadly explosion at the sugar refinery where her father worked, 9-year-old Morgan Seckinger went back to school — smiling, as usual, with her long, blond ponytail bobbing to the bounce in her walk.

Her fourth-grade teacher couldn’t believe it.

“I said ‘Morgan, was your daddy hurt in the explosion?’ ” said Stacie Ortiz, Morgan’s teacher at Ebenezer Elementary School. “And she said ‘Yes, ma’am, but they took him to the hospital, and he’s going to be fine.’ ”

Ms. Ortiz knew better. Paul Seckinger, a single father who has custody of Morgan, was in critical condition with burns over 80 percent of his body at a burn center in Augusta while Morgan was left in the care of her grandparents.

She enlisted Morgan for a special project — one that would raise money to help her father and other victims of the Feb. 7 explosion and fire at the Imperial Sugar refinery near Savannah. Some of her classmates’ parents also worked there. Morgan jumped at her teacher’s idea.

“I feel like I’m doing something to help somebody,” Morgan said in a classroom interview.

Ms. Ortiz had noticed Morgan’s shoes, the popular plastic Crocs clogs that are pocked with holes like Swiss cheese. Morgan had several small charms — plastic flowers, bees and a ladybug — that plugged into the holes for decoration.

The teacher wondered: What if someone made similar charms using the red, white and blue logo for Dixie Crystals, the brand of sugar produced at the refinery, that the class could sell to raise money?

Imperial Sugar gave its permission to use the logo. The manufacturer of the shoe charms, Colorado-based Crocs subsidiary Jibbitz, agreed to produce 1,000 of the postage stamp-sized charms and make them available for free.

Morgan did her part, phoning boutiques and gift shops in Effingham County, just west of Savannah, to ask if they would stock the charms. She also went to print shops to enlist them in making fliers. She stayed after school to make posters and to package each of the 1,000 charms in plastic bags.

Yesterday, Morgan and her classmates began selling them for $5 apiece at tables set up outside banks. Morgan’s grandmother, Karen Seckinger, said they sold 800 in about 30 minutes and made plans to order a new batch.

The money will go to the refinery families who have placed their lives and jobs on hold to stay near their loved ones at the burn center.

“I think we’ll probably sell a lot of them,” Morgan said. “I’ve told a bunch of people about them.”

Ms. Ortiz doesn’t doubt it. She said more than 200 people sent e-mails asking where they could buy a charm.

Morgan’s grandmother said the fundraiser has lifted the girl’s spirits. Mrs. Seckinger has spent all of her time, except for three brief trips home, at the Augusta burn center since her son arrived there Feb. 8.

Mr. Seckinger, 33, has regained consciousness, but is still breathing with the help of a ventilator as he recovers from exterior burns and seared lungs. Morgan’s grandparents took her to the Joseph M. Still Burn Center about three weeks ago to see her father.

At bedside, Morgan was more curious than scared. She asked about the tubes and machines helping him breathe. She rubbed the tiny bristles of hair growing back on top of his head.

“You’ve got to talk loud so he can hear you, because he’s got bandages over his ears to keep them moisturized,” Morgan said. “I told him that I love him, and everything’s going to be all right, and he needs to hurry up and get better so we can go fishing and watch ‘SpongeBob Square Pants.’ ”

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