Students combat world hunger

Published 10:51 am Monday, April 16, 2012

Rachel Nelsen, from left, Shenali DeSilva and Vanessa Cotter were instrumental in raising more than $700 for UNICEF to go towards helping the people of Somalia. -- Eric Johnson/

Pacelli 4th-graders raise $700

Three Pacelli fourth-graders are helping to feed starving children in Somalia.

Pacelli students Shenali DeSilva, Rachel Nelsen, and Vanessa Cotter recently raised more than $700 to aid Somali children. Calling their efforts The Purple Group, they want to make the cause as popular and brandable as curing breast cancer.

“We’re trying to put purple as the color for hunger,” DeSilva said.

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The trio first heard about Somalia earlier this year, when in December their class read an article in Time For Kids magazine about the country’s economic hardships. Though Somalia suffers from a variety of issues, including war between local factions and piracy due to the country’s crippling economy, the article highlighted how few meals some Somali children receive, and the low life expectancy of the average Somali citizen.

“It was just so, so sad,” Cotter said.

DeSilva and Cotter knew they wanted to help out somehow, but they weren’t sure what they could do. That’s why they, along with Nelsen, approached Pacelli Elementary Principal Mary Holtorf with a suggestion for a fundraiser.

“It hit me that we should do something about it, because that’s what God wants us to do,” DeSilva said.

Holtorf was excited for the students, but a little apprehensive about whether the students would complete a project. She and the students came up with a plan to raise money through the school. The students would start a fund for Somalia and raise money through Pacelli classrooms.

“They started to realize how much work it would be,” Holtorf said.

All the project needed was a name. Though the students made posters imploring others to “Save Somalia!” they wanted a more positive name. That’s where The Purple Group came in. The students used a purple notebook to keep track of the project, and each student’s favorite color is purple, which is why they decided to brand the fundraiser.

From Feb. 5 to the end of March, the purple group collected money from classrooms every week, asking students to bring in spare change and announcing which class raised the most money every Friday. DeSilva, Nelsen and Cotter also made door hangers to help raise awareness. Though they started out with a goal of $100, the students raised about $734 over two months.

“We thought it was amazing and didn’t believe that was true,” DeSilva said.

Holtorf will donate the money to UNICEF next week, where it will help feed hundreds of Somali children for an extended period. The girls aren’t done helping others yet, but Holtorf has told them they can only do one project a year.

“We’re already thinking of projects to do for next year,” Nelsen said.

Still, Holtorf said it was unique for elementary students to put this much effort into helping others.

“They have very kind, giving hearts,” she said.