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Students pitch in for displaced families

Red Rock Elementary third graders compiled "Tara's Totes", which will be donated to victims of house fires. Items included in the totes include personal care items, paper towels, Kleenex, paper plates, plastic utensils, storage bags and laundry detergent.

Families who have been victims of house fires often times are displaced with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Those families must make multiple trips to the store just to get basic necessities.

Red Rock Elementary third grade students are hoping to ease some of these people's minds with Tara's Totes.

Hudson resident Tara Tuchel started the organization Tara's Totes a year ago after she was displaced by a house fire.

Tara's Totes are large plastic bins filled with many household necessities, such as toiletries, paper plates, plastic utensils, aspirin, laundry detergent, roll of quarters, pens, stamps and envelopes, notebooks and Band Aids.

The totes are then donated to local fire departments who will then distribute them to families displaced by house fires.

Red Rock Elementary presented four totes to the Woodbury Fire Department on Dec. 13.

Third grade teacher Laura Loppnow, a neighbor of Tuchel's, suggested the Tara's Totes project as part of the school's compassion curriculum.

This year, Red Rock has instituted a Red Rock Code - essentially a list of code words, or life skills, for students to live by.

"We're trying to get the kids to learn how to show compassion," Loppnow said. "The kids are learning that there's more to their world than just themselves - they're really learning to think outside themselves."

December's code word is compassion, so Loppnow suggested all third grade classes put together totes to donate to the Woodbury Fire Department.

An additional connection to the project, Loppnow said, is that one of her students, Kendra Flanigan, was displaced this spring after her house was struck by lightning and caught fire.

"We had that connection in our classroom, so the students could hear about Kendra's experiences and see the pictures of her house," she said.

For the project, all five third grade classes assigned each student an item to bring in to be included in the tote.

A total of five totes were made. Four were donated to the Woodbury Fire Department and one was donated to the St. Paul Fire Department, because of a parent connection.

"It's really been a fun experience," Loppnow said.

In addition to compiling the items for the totes, the third graders also wrote letters to the families that will be included in the totes.

Loppnow said the students enjoyed the project, even though the concept was a little hard for them to wrap their heads around.

"They had a hard time getting past the anonymous part of it," she said. "We're giving without getting anything in return - and that's really important for the kids to learn."

An added connection to the project is that the three firefighters who picked up the totes - Chris Klein, Terry Johnson and Jim Mara - all have children in third grade at Red Rock Elementary.

"To know that a group of third graders can step up and do something like this is pretty impressive," Johnson said.

Klein said the four totes will most likely be kept in storage until a family is displaced by a house fire.

"We'll offer them up to the family who has been displaced," he said. "A lot of these families don't even know where to start most of the time, so that's huge for a family to have something as simple as a pony tail holder - it's the little things that make all the difference."

Mara said the totes will help those families begin to cope.

"The families are in shock," he said. "So the totes will be one less thing for them to have to think about."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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