Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Local book drive sets record

If you want something done, you go to a busy person. Likewise, if you want help, you go to people who need help the most, as the California-based Kamar Innovation Toy Group learned recently during an ongoing book drive on behalf of young patients in hospitals throughout the country.

The group’s idea is to ask elementary school students to donate books for the cause and in return receive a visit from life-size mascot characters traveling aboard the company’s Skoodiculous School Bus. Cooperating schools use the visit as an opportunity to inspire children to do some interactive creative writing.

Commercial ploys with a charitable hook aren’t new, but the supercharged reaction from one Washington school, where 90 percent of students qualify for free lunch, surprised sponsors. The 350 students at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary in Southeast, along with their parents and reading volunteers, brought in more than 600 books - a record since the bus tour began in New York on Sept. 14.

The number is several hundred more than was collected during all the New York visits, according to a company spokesperson. As planned, tour officials took the books to Children’s National Medical Center on Sunday along with some toys.

“[The drive] was the first of its kind at the school,” says school librarian Melissa Jackson, an 18-year teacher who was responsible for the book drive. “I was shocked to hear they asked us. I don’t know where the children got their books, new and used. There was such variety: Dr. Seuss, comic books, different genres and even some in Spanish. I did go through them to be sure they were gently used.”

The students do creative writing every day, she says, but this time, the characters provided added motivation. The children also received a numbered token allowing them to continue writing after school for the estimated 30 percent who have computers at home.

A hand in cancer fight

September was Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and October is singled out for breast cancer awareness, giving institutions of different stripes plenty of chances to heighten the public’s interest in two of the most vicious diseases afflicting women.

Loehmann’s department stores on Thursday for the first time coordinated a shop-a-thon in all 65 stores in 16 states to raise money for the 14-year-old Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (OCRF). The fund became well known during the 1990s because of the publicity given to it by the late Harper’s magazine Editor-in-Chief Liz Tilberis after she was stricken with the disease.

”The changing of the seasons sparks shopping, so why not link it with a charity is the reason behind the push,” a Loehmann’s publicist says. Customers who donated $5 to the cause in any store got 15 percent taken off their purchases. The institution also donated 5 percent of all customer purchases that day to the OCRF. Since 1998, OCRF has given more than $18 million to 100 medical researchers across the country.

Beginning today, more than 20 local high school and college volleyball teams are taking part in a nationwide monthlong rally called Dig Pink on behalf of breast cancer awareness. It involves about 600 more teams across the country. Dig Pink is a project of the Side-Out Foundation, founded four years ago by Annandale High School volleyball coach Rick Dunetz, who hopes to raise $350,000. Mr. Dunetz began the venture when his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer for a second time.

Olympians help others play

A number of this year’s Olympic medalists volunteered to benefit sport - and play in general - around the world in a novel way.

A Johnson & Johnson grant program called Hearts of Gold, done in partnership with Right to Play, the Toronto-based international humanitarian organization, was able to raise $450,000 to help children around the world simply by asking the Olympians to lend their names to the cause. Twenty-two so-called “athletic ambassadors” participated, including American swimming star Natalie Coughlin.

For every gold, silver or bronze medal each athlete won, Johnson & Johnson donated $20,000, $15,000 or $10,000 to Right to Play. Hence, Miss Coughlin alone was responsible indirectly for $80,000 that would be spent through local groups bringing sport and play activities to children in 23 countries.

Right to Play was founded by a Norwegian four-time gold medal winner and began under the name Olympic Aid. Its symbol today is a red soccer ball, emblematic of efforts by seasoned professionals to use such games to teach children life lessons and create after-school programs in places such as refugee camps.

Johnson & Johnson also gave bronze bracelets to the 11,000 or so Olympic athletes, plus a copy of the bracelet for each participant to give to a mentor who inspired him or her on the way to the Beijing Games. In addition, the company is underwriting five internships for Olympians interested in working with the Right to Play organization for three months. American rower Michelle Guerette is one of the awardees named to date.

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