SMS students collect coins for typhoon victims

Piles of copper, silver and bills were spread out across two counters in Sheilah-Margaret Pothast’s classroom Tuesday at Soldotna Middle School. As the contents of two five-gallon water jugs were counted, excitement grew for five middle school students.


The coins and bills were collected over a one-week period at SMS as a part of the Spartan Student Council Penny Drive to benefit the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, a powerful tropical cyclone that devastated the Philippines in early November. It is the deadliest Philippine on record killing at least 5,500 people.

Pothast said the student council, a group of 67 students, discussed a November penny drive as a service project earlier in the month. They talked about donating collected funds to Heffer, International; but when they heard word of the deadly storm spread, the group agreed to refocus the cause.

The SMS student body and teachers were made aware of the penny drive with fliers and daily announcements. The collection jugs sat on the office counter for one week: one for seventh-grade, another for the eighth-grade class.

While the goal was to collect pennies to add up for each grade’s score, Pothast said the addition of silver coins and bills would subtract points from the score, leading to strategic placement of money on the students’ behalf.

Students would add a handful here and there in the beginning, but Pothast and the students counting said that near the end, large bags were being poured into the jugs with cardstock funnels, and crumpled $10 and $20 bills were quickly accumulated.

Pothast said that the total of donations almost doubled on the last day, increasing the student council’s excitement about the service project.

Tuesday was the day to count the totals. Derek Lewis and Haley Buckbee emptied and counted the seventh-grade collection while Kellie Arthur, Kallie Kenner and John-Mark Pothast counted the eighth-grade jug.

“I had no idea what to expect,” Pothast said. “I am pleasantly surprised.”

While empting the jugs, the students shook out the coins and had to use tongs to get the wadded bills from the containers.

As the students hands turned black from separating and counting the coins, their excitement for what they had accomplished grew.

“It is a plethora of pennies,” John-Mark said with a smile. “I did not think it would be nearly this much.”

“I think the seventh-grade is gonna win,” Derek said loudly.

After sorting the coins and counting the bills, Pothast took the group to Alaska USA Federal Credit Union to use the facility’s change counting machine.

In total, the group raised $989.65 for relief efforts for the Typhoon victims, with the seventh-grade collecting $408.37 and the eighth grade collecting $581.28.

Although with the total of points the other team help deduct, the seventh-grade won the competition and gain five point in Friday’s Turkey Trot festivities held during an assembly.

Pothast said December’s service project will be a canned food drive. She said she is proud of the efforts of the student council.

“They are a great bunch,” she said.