NORMAL - Fairview Elementary students and teachers had a warm, fuzzy feeling - literally - thanks to a special gift from students at Normal Community West High School.
Amid exams, sports and other December activities, the Normal West student council made 445 fleece blankets, enough to give one to every student at Fairview.
"We got all smiles. That's what we were hoping," said Matt Kubsch, Normal West council president, describing the reaction as 45 high school students started pulling blankets from dark plastic bags.
"I'm going to show this to my babysitter and everybody there," said kindergartner Kim Halm, 6, who quickly tucked a red and blue blanket into her backpack after she received it Tuesday. "It's so warm."
Despite their excitement, many youngsters remembered to say "thank you" to the older students who personally handed out the blankets. Others wrapped themselves in their blanket or rubbed the soft fabric to their face, offering a smile of thanks.
In return for the gifts, the younger students were challenged to do something nice for others someday.
Council advisor April Scott was inspired by a "pay it forward" idea spawned by talk show host Oprah Winfrey, who once gave her audience members $1,000 each to use to help someone else.
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Initially, the student council planned to make 59 blankets, enough for all Fairview third graders, but the idea grew.
"One week ago, we were only half done," said council vice president Kristen Krueger. "Lots of people helped."
The students raised the needed $5,000 in only three weeks, thanks to help from students, parents, teachers and businesses.
"It seemed almost insurmountable," said Nick Palmer, student council treasurer.
The senior class board gave $500 and Brandt Truck Line in Bloomington transported more than 400 of the blankets.
Last year, the council raised $12,000 for the Red Cross, said Scott. This year, council members were joined by members of the Spanish and German clubs, who tied about 30 blankets.
Fairview Principal James Shaw knew about the surprise and was ready to reciprocate. Shaw, along with sixth-grader Keirstyn Millett and fifth-grader Nathan Crowley, who are president and vice president of the Fairview student council, unfurled a bright orange banner that read, "The Fairview Falcons thank the Normal West Wildcats for the beautiful blankets."
Normal West Principal Tom Eder said the banner will hang at the high school for a long time. "This is why I'm in education," Shaw said.
By the numbers
5000 Value, in dollars, of the gift of blankets
445 Number of blankets donated
50 Number (approximate) of blankets made by the Barlow family
45 Number (approximate) of minutes it takes one person to make a blanket
30 Number of blankets a student team made after school in 1.5 hours