In a town of 18,337 people 275 miles northwest of New Orleans, there is a school called North Natchitoches Elementary.
Some 1,200 families have transplanted to the town since Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans on Aug. 29, and about 100 new students have enrolled at the elementary school.
It's a school much like Empire Elementary School. The student population is similar, though not exactly the same - 633 students enrolled at Natchitoches before the new influx, 580 at Empire - and 83 percent of the student body qualify for free or reduced lunch, 69 percent at Empire.
Natchitoches is also one of four elementary schools in the United States to be the recipient of a grant called The Plan for Social Excellence Technology given from a private foundation in Tampa, Fla. Two other recipients are in Colorado. The fourth is on Monte Rosa Drive in Carson City - it's Empire.
Several staff, including Principal Pat Carpenter, met the principal and two teachers from Natchitoches at a conference over the summer sponsored by the grantee.
"The hurricane really makes you feel for everybody and makes you feel for the kids going to the school and the impact that will have on the school," said computer teacher and technology coordinator LeAnn Morris, who also attended the grant seminar.
It is these connections, plus that the new students at Natchitoches need uniforms, that inspired a fund-raising campaign at Empire. Large plastic bottles have been set up in the lunch room, the computer room and the front office. Some teachers even have individual containers in their classrooms.
On their way to lunch Thursday, Luis Rowell, 6, helped classmate Alex Sorensen, 6, pour a bag of change into the large jug on the bench of the lunch table.
In Ingrid Frenna's fifth-grade classroom, Daniela Carrillo, 10, donated $5.
"I gave money because I feel that they would need something for the school and to get a good education," she said. "And they could at least have a good life and learn something and forget about what happened to them."
When Morris brought the idea of fund-raising to staff, she said they unanimously backed it up. The original idea was to send supplies, like backpacks, to Natchitoches, but a call to the school secretary left them with quite different plans.
"She said that they didn't have a lot of places to put things now," Morris said. "She said that money would be best. And that the kids need uniforms."
Turning it into a math-teaching tool, Morris has calculated with students what would happen if each children brought in a quarter at the school, then a dollar.
"The kids really want to help," she said. "When I've talked to them in the classroom, I said, 'Just think of what it would be like if we had 100 new kids start at Empire today."
It's a way for them to connect with the victims.
"I think (the fund-raising) makes it feel real for our kids," Carpenter said. "They feel they're part of the whole thing. They hear about it on TV and through their parents, but it wasn't connected to them."
The containers will be up until Sept. 16. Hurricane relief collections are also being done at other schools in the Carson City School District, including Carson Middle School.
- Contact reporter Maggie O'Neill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1219.