Middle schoolers give pennies for Thai relief | VailDaily.com

Middle schoolers give pennies for Thai relief

Scott N. Miller
Shane Macomber/Vail DailyLocal resident Greg Guffey is headed to Thailand to help out with the Tsunami relief efforts.

MINTURN – When Nate Vasquez started saving pennies a few years ago, he didn’t know the money would go to help kids half a world a way. But thanks to a local volunteer, that’s where his pennies are headed.Vasquez and his fellow students at Minturn Middle School have quickly filled four one-gallon jars and a bucket with pennies to donate to a local man’s small-scale tsunami relief effort in Thailand. The students put a serious hurry-up on the effort, which only started Monday.Vasquez, a seventh grader , put several dollars’ worth of pennies into the jars, along with pennies his parents and grandparents had been saving, too. In all, the Vasquez family put more than $35 into the jars.”I’ve been donating as many pennies as I can,” he said. “I want to help.”That desire to help has run deep through the middle school’s 175 students. As the pennies flowed into the jars, virtually every student wrote a letter to kids in Thailand they’ll probably never meet. “I told them about myself, and what we’re doing here,” eighth grater Natalie Martinez said. “I told them we’re thinking about them over here.”

The man carrying those letters to Thailand is Greg Guffey, who has lived in this area on and off for the last 15 years. He told a friend, the mother of a student at Minturn, about his plans to help in Thailand. That friend contacted school principal Toni Boush, who gave the OK to start.Guffey is no stranger to Thailand, and has done volunteer work there before. He spent time between 2002 and last year working in the northern part of the country, helping establish a school and teaching.This time, he’s headed for the southwestern coast, paying his own way to a village near the city of Phuket. While the world’s major relief agencies are already pouring millions of dollars into relief efforts in Thailand, Indonesia, Maylasia and other nations hit by the tidal waves, Guffey said there’s a need for smaller-scale assistance, too.”I want to help fill in the gaps,” Guffey said. That will involve working with one school that he hopes to link with Minturn. It also involves getting small grants, food, or help with rebuilding projects.”Thailand is better off than a lot of countries that were hit,” Guffey said. “Much of their infrastructure is in place and they’re better off financially. But there’s still a big need for cooking supplies and utensils. A lot of the people there are fishermen and their boats have been destroyed.”

Beyond that, a lot of people in the area don’t want to eat fish right now, since the fish may have been feeding off the bodies of friends and relatives washed out to sea by the waves.The kids on the student council squirmed a bit hearing that, but it seemed to reinforce their desire to help. “We want to stay involved,” eighth grader Miriah Jones said. “We’d like to have a sister school there.”Another eighth grader, David Gray, said a lot of students at the school have been moved by the images they’ve seen on TV.”A lot of kids are really upset,” Gray said. “Some of the kids complained they didn’t get an iPod for Christmas, and then they found out about kids whose families got washed away.”With the kids putting so much of themselves into Guffey’s trip, he’s promised to keep them informed, whether through e-mails or old style letters. “It’s all so sad,” eighth grader Nima Sherpa said. “I saw people running from the waves on TV and that made me think about what I could do to help.”

Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 613, or smiller@vaildaily.com.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado

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