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BLOOMINGTON - Blooming Grove Academy middle school students have won first place among young students for The Salvation Army's red kettle drive at Christmas.

Stanford-based Olympia High School's Key Club took the top honor in the high school category. The students will be honored today by the charity.

"I think we did so well because we were cheerful and sometimes sang songs," said Zain Khusro, an eighth-grade student at Blooming Grove.

James Stokke, 14, of Bloomington said he thought it was simply because they smiled and wished people a "Merry Christmas."

The trophies went to a number of school, labor, church and other groups that helped with ringing, said Harriet Steinbach, development director at the Bloomington office of The Salvation Army.

"It's a positive way to encourage people to help out," said Steinbach.

The traveling trophies are a new program suggested by Capt. Scott Shelbourn and Capt. Jolinda Shelbourn, who previously used them in the Peoria area, she said.

"The students seem to enjoy doing service projects of this type," said Blooming Grove teacher Cindy Vilmin. Her students likely will help The Salvation Army again next season.

Blooming Grove director Peg Hayden said about eight students, in fifth to eighth grades, take part in other fund-raisers.

The students run a school store that helps raise money for a big school trip and sometimes for other gifts to the school. "One year they got a nice boom box for the music teacher to use," said Hayden.

The same day that students rang bells at Eastland Mall, they brought their own money to donate for Toys for Tots and bought gifts for that charity.

In 2004, they also provided food for workers when the Old House Society and others moved the Mandel-Cohn house from 507 Washington St., near the school, to a double lot at the corner of Grove and Gridley streets.

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