Angie Willnerd is teaching kids about kindness — one tub-full of bottle caps at a time.
On Wednesday, children filled the gym at Linden Elementary School, where Willnerd is one of three first-grade teachers.
Students passed through a doorway into the gym, stopping briefly to dump sacks filled with plastic bottle caps into a large tote near the door.
The bottle caps will go to Iluminando Corazones A Ninos Con Cancer, an organization that helps children with cancer in Mexico.
A spokesperson for the group’s Facebook page said the caps are taken to a recycler and the money received helps neediest of 64 cancer patients ages, 4-12. Funds are used to help provide food, bus tickets and medicine for children, living in Reynosa, and receiving chemotherapy at hospitals in Monterrey and Victoria.
A family whose child attends Linden Elementary will take the bottle caps to Mexico.
So far, the schoolchildren have collected 17 plastic totes full of bottle caps. The lids come from pop, water, Gatorade and milk bottles.
Willnerd said the project began last year after the Fremont Public Schools district challenged instructors to take on a project they were passionate about.
She and her fellow first-grade teachers Heather Kroeger and Brandi Donahue formed a “Kindness Crew.” Each month, all three classes (58 students) of first-graders conduct a project for the school, each other or the community.
Last September, they had students write messages of kindness on paper apples. Some apples would end up with 30 to 40 messages.
In October, students walked to Nye Square, where they gave them gourds and hand-made cards to residents on Halloween.
The lid project began last October, too, after Willnerd learned that the family of one of her students was collecting bottle caps.
“I thought we could do that as a schoolwide project so we sent home a letter with every student, asking for bottle caps. People from throughout the community have been bringing them also,” Willnerd said.
Each week, children bring their bottle caps to the gym when the school has an activity called, “Community,” when students say the school cheer and celebrate learning at Linden. Students put the bottle caps into a large plastic tote during that event, and sometimes now even twice a week.
“We’d hoped to fill the tub once a month and today is the 17th time we’ve filled it,” Willnerd said on Wednesday.
The tote is filled with a large, plastic garbage sack. When the sack is full, it’s given to the student’s family, who plan to go to Reynosa and deliver the bottle caps.
Willnerd and other teachers and staff believe the project benefits children at Linden as well as those in Mexico.
“We feel that if they are doing something simple like bringing lids that they’d otherwise throw away—but they’re able to give to help children who are sick — that it will give them a good feeling in their hearts and show them they can help others even in some small way,” Willnerd said.
Willnerd has enjoyed seeing how excited the children are about the large number of lids collected each week.
Students, who’ve found lids on the school playground, also have brought to staffers for the collection.
“It helps keep our playground clean. It’s a double bonus,” Willnerd said of the opportunity to recycle and help children who are ill.
Willnerd once asked the student’s dad how they were going to get all those bottle caps to Reynosa — and he joked that “it’s either lids or luggage.”
The teacher added that she believes her student’s family goes to Reynosa a couple times a year.
In the meantime, community members who’d like to participate in the effort may drop off clean, washed bottle caps in a disposable bag to the school’s front office at 735 W. Linden Ave., in Fremont.
The project will be continued until the end of the year.
Teachers also plan to continue monthly activities at the school. They hope to return to Nye Square when it’s warm enough to walk there and have an activity with the residents.
They’re thinking about having children write kind messages on rocks, which they’d sell to other students at the school and then give the proceeds to a worthy cause.
Whatever the project, teachers hope to cap it off with a lesson — like the one presented to students through the lid collection.
“It teaches them to be kind to others,” Willnerd said. “And to think how to spread kindness and make other people feel good.”