If you ask a child to give up his or her possessions, confusion or a temper tantrum often follows.
That’s why when Sam Westbrook’s three daughters offered to donate their birthday gifts to children in Moore, Okla., which was hit by a tornado in May, Westbrook didn’t hesitate to send out the party invitations.
Maya, Mackenzie and Morgan Westbrook were planning a joint birthday party when they came across pictures of the tragic aftermath of a tornado that ripped through Oklahoma City suburbs on May 20.
Maya who was turning 8, convinced her 6-year-old twin sisters to donate their gifts to the children of Plaza Towers Elementary School, which was leveled by the tornado.
“When mom showed us the pictures I was like, ‘We’ve been getting toys since we were babies and you know what, this is going to be a good deed.’ So I told my sisters and they told my mom [about wanting to donate their toys],” Maya said.
“It was a completely selfless act. I’m so proud of them,” Westbrook said of her first- and third-grade daughters.
When invitations went out and the community caught wind, people began calling to see if they could attend the donations-only party.
All three girls attend Glen-Warden Elementary School in Glenville, where they approached their principal, Mark McCarthy, about extending their efforts schoolwide. His enthusiasm mixed with their own led to a campaign at all four of the district’s elementary schools.
The community quickly became involved, helping the family to raise nearly $14,000 worth of school supplies, sports equipment, bicycles and scooters and books to restock the Plaza Towers library.
Westbrook said her daughters felt a connection with the children at Plaza Towers, so donating to the school directly seemed like a better idea than going through a community program or the Red Cross. She hopes that the direct link will help the girls, their elementary school peers, and the community understand the value of their project.
“We’re hoping that we’ll get photos of stuff arriving [in Oklahoma], because trying to connect those pieces when you’re little is hard,” she said.
Glenda Lewis, one of the Westbrook family’s neighbors, said that the girls, however young, are pretty savvy.
“They’re the cutest little things, but they seem to really know what’s going on,” she said.
The biggest struggle, however, was finding a way to get four pallets of school supplies and toys from upstate New York to Oklahoma City, Okla.
After Westbrook’s original shipping plans fell through, Lewis’ husband, Pete, stepped in with the help of Roadrunner Transportation, who volunteered to cover the costs of delivering the donated items to Oklahoma.
“We really need to thank Roadrunner transport; they made it all tangible. When we knew they were on board we were like ‘OK, let’s go. Let’s take as [many donations] as we can,’ ” Westbrook said.
Two hundred and fifty backpacks stuffed with school supplies, 150 bicycle helmets to go with new bikes and scooters, thousands of used books and games donated by local teachers were all delivered to the Westbrooks’ home, sometimes by complete strangers.
The Glenville Rotary Club and the First Baptist Church of Scotia were among the many who helped to turn a birthday party into a full-fledged relief effort.
Plaza Towers Elementary School is holding classes this year at Central Junior High while their previous location is being rebuilt.
Brandy Glover, Moore Public Schools donations coordinator, has been working closely with Westbrook to organize the shipment and to determine what kinds of items the students needed.
She is also in charge of the relief fund for those interested in making donations, which will be used to aid students, teachers and staff of Moore Public Schools. The school’s electronics were not covered by insurance and much of the money raised will go toward new computers and other electronic equipment for the school.
The Westbrook girls are already onto their next project: collecting “Box Tops for Education” to earn money for Glen-Warden Elementary School. They wrote letters asking neighbors to save their box tops and outlined which products they could find them on.
“Each box top gives the school 10 cents and we wanted to raise money for our school so they won’t cut programs because they don’t have enough money,” Maya said.
Westbrook said she’s amazed by what her young children could do.
“A lot of times people don’t know what to do or how to get involved. These are kids doing this. Think about what could happen if we all put a little effort into things in life,” she said.