Kids collect for cold and flu season

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November 14, 2009
— The sound of a child's cough worries any mother. But the worry that stabs in the pit of a mom's stomach is all the sharper if she's got no money for rent or food.

How will she afford cold or flu medication?

That thought struck St. John Vianney Principal Judi Dillon recently when she read yet another wish list from a local charity.

The list from the House of Mercy shelter included the usual household items that a homeless family might need.

But Dillon's eyes stopped at one item on the list: cough medicine.

Dillon's heart went out to the kids whose parents can't afford the kind of care her students take for granted.

"We had a large number of our students out with flu symptoms, respiratory symptoms," Dillon said. "All I could think of was how could you have the flu and not have Tylenol or cough suppressant.

"And then it struck me that homeless people wouldn't have those things."

So Dillon called a school assembly and shared her feelings with the 255 St. John's students. She asked them to bring one item—a box of tissues, Tylenol, cough syrup, hand sanitizer—anything a family might need to get through colds-and-flu season.

"She was really passionate about it, and the students felt so bad" for kids not as fortunate as they, said seventh-grader Sierra Rhodes.

"Judi's passion was so incredible," said teacher Vicky McCulloch. "They felt it. It was so neat."

The kids and their parents responded with 540 items that filled 14 boxes. Some went far beyond the call.

"My mom went to one store, and they said, ‘what are you doing, overdosing?'" said sixth-grader Laura Boudreau.

McCulloch said the east-side Sentry store manager heard about the project and gave her a voucher.

Truth be told, the kids said their enthusiasm also was fueled by Dillon's promise of an extra recess if they met their goal.

Members of the St. John Vianney Service Club delivered the goods to the House of Mercy on Friday. They toured the shelter with HOM's Shirley Van Horn, who told them the shelter had just run out of Tylenol, so the delivery came just in time.

While the children's gifts will help, Van Horn noted that her clients' needs go far beyond over-the-counter medications. For example, it's not uncommon for a family to see a doctor but then have no money to fill the prescription, she said.

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