BROOKSVILLE — Oodles of stuffed bears and other toys fill the front window of Vicki Laster's fifth-grade classroom. The Pine Grove Elementary School students have been collecting them for weeks to send to tornado victims in Alabama. They call the drive "Bears for 'Bama."
Said class member Ayanna Billington, 10: "It was an altogether class plan." They thought of bears, she said, because that is the school mascot.
Laster's class is familiar with helping disaster victims.
"After (Hurricane) Katrina, they shipped thousands of the beads to Louisiana," said Pine Grove kindergarten/first-grade paraprofessional Michele Matthews.
She and her husband, Charles, own the UPS store on Mariner Boulevard in Spring Hill. They donated the shipping of the beads and will do the same with the bears.
Though there have been tornadoes in other places besides Alabama, Laster thought of that state because her husband has family there. They chose Alberta Elementary School in Tuscaloosa. It is a Title 1 school, Laster said, with 441 students, many of them needy.
"Their school was a beautiful school," she said, "and is no longer a beautiful school."
The students hope their contribution helps. The bears won't rebuild the school, but there are other ways to assist.
"I'm thinking they feel really bad," said class member Taylor Dudek, 11. "It's probably good for us to give them something to make them feel better."
The students got the entire school involved. They made fliers and produced an announcement for the school's morning show. They placed collection bins around the school.
"There's one at the library, office and cafeteria," Ayanna said.
The students have collected more than 450 stuffed toys.
"It feels good to do something for someone else," Ayanna said.
She said that when they called Alberta Elementary's principal, "She was really happy and saying, God bless us."