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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Kennewick students warmed by help from faraway island town

By Cameron Probert Tri-City Herald

As temperatures dipped into the single digits in the Mid-Columbia, a group of elementary students were warmed last week with the help of mothers 2,760 miles away.

For years, Heather Lewis heard stories about students in need in Carol McCain’s fifth-grade class at Amistad Elementary School in Kennewick.

McCain, 69, told Lewis, her daughter, about mending clothes and other ways she helped the children.

“She’s taught at Amistad since it opened,” Lewis said. “I cry every time she tells a story. She loves that particular school.”

While many clothing drives provide coats for younger children, the kids in McCain’s class are often left without a chance to get warm outerwear.

In most cases it’s not the parents’ fault, McCain said – they simply aren’t able to buy coats for their children.

Lewis agreed. “It’s just hard to get a good coat on a tight income,” she said.

Lewis, a former Kennewick native, now resides on Daniel Island, a 4,500-person community connected to Charleston, South Carolina, by a bridge. Temperatures on the 4,000-acre island don’t normally dip below 37 degrees.

Parents may buy their children winter coats that are worn only on the coldest days of the year before they are put away.

Lewis decided to ask the mothers in her community whether they would be willing to help. She posted an appeal on the Daniel Island Moms Facebook group asking for help.

The response was immediate, Lewis said. By Christmas, 75 coats were sitting in her home, along with boxes filled with other cold-weather clothing such as sweatshirts, snow pants, hats and gloves.

“It caught on so fast here. People were just going online and shopping and having them shipped to the school,” she said. “They wanted to do something.”

She packed the coats into 10 boxes and called her local shipping store, Qwik Pack and Ship. When she told the owner, Tom Pomposelli, about the project, he responded she should bring the items in.

Pomposelli said it would normally cost more than $250 to send the boxes across the country. He offered to donate a portion of the cost, leaving Lewis with about $150 left to pay.

“He’s such a softhearted guy,” Lewis said. “He doesn’t know Kennewick and he doesn’t know these kids, but he still helped.”

She went to her car to collect money, but a woman standing at the counter paid the remaining costs.

The boxes arrived after Christmas, and McCain began distributing the coats when classes began on Tuesday.

One child, a girl from Africa who arrived shortly before the cold weather started, was especially grateful.

“She has just been freezing. She got her new coat, and she said in her British accent, ‘Now my bottom will be warm,’ ” McCain said.

The gifts also gave McCain a chance to teach children about generosity and kindness. She asked the kids to help other people when they see someone struggling. They brought back stories of helping their parents with younger siblings, and helping neighbors carry groceries upstairs.

“We talked about seeing a need and meeting it. Heather saw a need and filled it,” McCain said.

Lewis wants to continue helping students at the elementary school next year. One of the strengths of social media is the ability to connect people and create a powerful impact on someone’s life, she said.

“This could be just Daniel Island to Amistad,” she said. “It feels good to make a small little train that goes from us to them every year.”

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