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03-08-12: Students serve community through March Gladness
03-08-12: Students serve community through March Gladness

Feeding the homeless. Picking weeds at a nursing home. Reading to children. Collecting clothing and shoes for the underprivileged. Raising money to fight cancer and heart disease.

Students of all ages throughout the district are giving countless hours of volunteer time to the above causes and more as part of the seventh annual March Gladness community service program.

The program, coordinated by Communities In Schools of Puyallup (CISP), began as a one-month community service effort each spring and expanded last year to include projects organized from January through March.

March Gladness has also grown in scope from several thousand students participating in the early years to more than 10,000 actively involved last year, said CISP Executive Director Jan Mauk.

Spring Into Action

That number could more than double this year with the introduction of a weeklong “Spring Into Action” districtwide clothing drive March 12-16.

The drive is being coordinated by several school district administrators in partnership with Tacoma Goodwill.

The goal, organizers say, is to collect gently used clothing and shoe donations from each of the more than 20,500 students and 2,700 employees in the district’s schools and support buildings.

The community can also give to the project by dropping off donations at their neighborhood schools or at the district’s administrative office on the corner of Pioneer Avenue and Second Street in downtown Puyallup.

Tacoma Goodwill has coordinated the Spring Into Action drive in recent years in other neighboring school districts.

Soles4Souls shoe drive

A similar effort to help those less fortunate was organized last month at more than a dozen schools that participated in a Soles4Souls shoe collection project.

Soles4Souls is a national nonprofit organization that has given away more than 12 million pairs of shoes the past five years to people in need, especially to those in Third World countries.

Melanie Warren, who is past president of the Puyallup-Sumner Chamber of Commerce, asked the school district to help her meet a goal of collecting 20,000 shoes.

Thousands of shoes, including boots, flip-flops, tennis shoes, high heels, and slippers had been collected and sorted by students by January 31.

Many of the schools, including Ballou Junior High, have registered the shoe drive as one of their 2012 March Gladness projects.

Students in Heidi Zimmer’s field investigations class, which coordinated that school’s collections, prepared the shoes for pick-up one afternoon by tying laces together on pairs of shoes or rubber-banding those without laces.

Eighth grader Kayla Finch said, “I’ve always wanted to make a difference, and it feels good helping others, especially little kids who don’t have shoes.”

Principal Krista Bates added, “Any time you can help others, it’s a good thing for our kids to learn about community service. And it’s not just our community, it’s the global community.”

The thousands of shoes collected in Puyallup schools by the middle of last month includes 875 shoes collected in November and December by Emerald Ridge High and Glacier View Junior High — the first schools to get involved with the project.

Northwood Elementary also jumped on board with the collection last month, and Jennifer Doerr’s sixth-grade class took charge of organizing that school’s drive.
In just five days, the school collected more than 2,500 pairs of shoes.

Be the Change in 2012

The theme of this year’s March Gladness campaign is “Be the Change in 2012.” A 20-member student committee made up of junior high and high school students meets throughout the year to coordinate and advertise the event.

“I think that March Gladness is really special because it brings people of all ages together for a greater cause,” said committee co-chair Marissa Fraser, a senior at Puyallup High.

Rogers High senior and committee co-chair Allyssa Knutson added, “It’s helped me to grow as a person by participating in the different service projects. We are helping community members and learning from them at the same time.”

Fraser and Knutson encourage students and the community to become involved this year.

“Anyone can do it, and anything is possible as long as you take action,” Knutson said.

To learn more about March Gladness and see a list of this year’s community service projects, visit the March Gladness website.