Wilson service project

Students from Wilson Elementary attach Blessing Bags to the Warming Hearts Outreach line outside the future women's and children shelter on Iowa Avenue Friday morning.

OTTUMWA — Students from Wilson Elementary got into the spirit of the season by packing and bringing “Blessings Bags” to the Warming Hearts outreach.

“I initiated this project to have a community-led project to help those in need,” said Ashley VandeKrol, founder of the organization..

Michaela Bleeker, Wilson’s school counselor who also serves at Eisenhower, said VandeKrol reached out to see if the school would be interested in having students from the school involved in the program.

“I initiated this project to have a community-led project to help those in need,” VandeKrol said.

“I spoke to Mr. Hendred about it, and he was all for it,” Bleeker said. The school then selected 14 students to participate, being sure to select a wide range of children from fourth and fifth grade. “We wanted to make sure all groups were included in a diverse school and create a positive experience for all kids,” she said.

Lessons were wrapped into the project as well. Bleeker said it was tied into the Wilson Way, particularly the “Compassionate” quarter of the philosophy. “It’s showing compassion to others in need in our community. That’s what we focused on today,” she said.

She also said VandeKrol had provided a copy of a letter from the homeless in Ottumwa saying thank you for participating and for helping them without judgment “so I read that to the students as well.”

The students packed their own bags when the time came. Bags are filled with the outreach’s most dire needs: stocking hats, gloves, socks, scarves, hygiene items, nonperishable food items, hand warmers and the like. “Just about anything that will fit in a Ziplock bag,” VandeKrol said. “People are getting creative,” adding items like books, washcloths, can openers, chapstick, nail clippers and other items.

“I had all the items laid out and the kids got to pick their own items,” Bleeker said.

Then, Friday morning, they took a bus ride to the future site of the women’s and children shelter on Iowa Avenue and they clipped their bags to the line for those in need to take.

“Thank you so much for coming out and being a part of this and helping people in need in your community,” VandeKrol told the students.

As she watched the children walk back to the bus, she shared one more thought: “This is not me. This is me being a vessel for Jesus.”

— Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at tgoldizen@ottumwacourier.com or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.

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Tracy Goldizen is the Courier's features and magazine editor, leading production of the award-winning "Ottumwa Life" and the Courier's other magazine offerings. She began work with the Courier on the copy desk.

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