DOWNERS GROVE – Every year, Downers Grove Christian School teacher Wendy Fanella challenges her students to raise enough money to fill as many shoeboxes as there are classmates with gifts for third world children.
And each of the last eight years, the students have met the challenge, earning a field trip to the Dollar Tree and Target to pick the gifts that will be sent to the charity Samaritan's Purse that delivers the boxes.
"Every year they manage to somehow [meet the goal]," she said.
This year is special, though, she said.
The 18 fifth-graders managed to raise $1,458, surpassing the goal by more than $1,000, and raising almost twice as much as the prior classroom record.
"They're a group like I've never seen before, and I've been teaching 20 years," she said. "It's amazing to see these kids care so much about people they've never met.
"It's a heartwarming story."
Like past classes, students did extra chores at home to help raise funds, but three boys went door-to-door to their neighbors, raising $506 between the three of them.
The total amount raised by the class was enough to fill four shoe boxes for each student during the shopping trip Nov. 13.
"Now my classroom is full of toys and soap and toothbrushes," Fanella said.
This year, the items will go to children in India, Madagascar, Kenya and Zambia.
Along with the toys, clothes, school supplies and hygiene items, her class writes letters to their overseas peers, and include pictures.
Adult volunteers go along for the shopping trip with Fanella to help guide the students, and remind them to shop smart and to find deals.
"We talked abut the kids in these third world countries. Kids are excited over a toothbrush," she said. "And they're excited over a new pair of socks."
She said some customers in the stores were inspired by the students' trip and bought four boxes of items on the spot to donate.