Ellis pinches pennies for a purpose

Published 9:30 am Friday, February 25, 2011

Sixth-graders Caitlin Devriendt, center, and Maddie Mullenbach donate to Mrs. Hoffman's penny wars can Friday morning. Ellis Middle School wrapped up its Pennies for Patients campaign Friday.

Students at Ellis Middle School take cancer seriously.

They play penny wars like it’s college football. They find ways to raise money like it’s the latest fashion. They consistently raise thousands of dollars for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and they’re almost ready to do it again this year.

Ellis’s Student Council will wrap up its sixth annual Pennies for Patients campaign Friday, on track to raise more than $2,000 according to early estimates.

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“It’s usually what we raise,” said Eric Vaughn, seventh-grade social studies teacher at Ellis. Vaughn said students have raised $885 thus far in the two-week campaign, but all of the various fundraisers haven’t yet been counted.

Student Council first sponsored a Pennies for Patients campaign after hearing about students who’ve contracted leukemia and lymphoma before, something most teens don’t expect to get at an early age.

“The students were surprised that actually people their age could get cancer,” Vaughn said.

That’s why Ellis students took part in a nationwide annual campaign by the LLS, consistently raising thousands of dollars and placing in the top ten school donation list for three out of the past five years.

Middle schoolers have played a plethora of penny-raising games over the past two weeks. Each morning for 10 minutes, students take part in penny wars, a clever game where students run around contributing to each other’s homerooms. Pennies and dollar donations positively contribute to a homeroom’s total while silver coins “poison” a total, taking away from a homeroom’s overall contribution. The homeroom with the best positive total gets a donut party, while students can win individual honors by decorating homeroom penny cans.

“It’s good that it helps people with blood cancer,” said Qiah Baxter, sixth grader.

In addition, students have taken portable cans around the community, collecting change from residents. These penny boxes, according to Vaughn, could push the total donations much higher than expected. Students and family members could donate online as well for the Ellis campaign.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Ellis Principal Katie Berglund. “The kids … they have that (community giving) sense. We’re very fortunate that we have a good group of kids.”

Vaughn will take the students’ donations, literally hundreds of thousands of coins, to Community Bank Saturday at 8:30 a.m. to be counted and a check will be sent to the LLS. Vaughn and student council members hope Ellis students raised just as much, if not more than previous years. Regardless, they’re happy they don’t have to count the money by themselves.

“It’s really nice to have a business school relationship so we can do these things,” Vaughn said. “Without (Community Bank), I can’t do this.”