Elementary students raise $12,000 for Sacramento homeless charity

Some students at Sutterville Elementary School used to think that most homeless people were like those they saw sleeping in public, asking for money at traffic lights and pushing their belongings in grocery carts.

That changed when they met a woman who had been homeless – but she didn’t fit their description of what homelessness looks like. Her story inspired them to step up a fundraising drive for the organization that found her a home. The drive ended last week, when the students presented Family Promise of Sacramento with almost $12,000.

Marsha Spell, the organization’s executive director, said the April speaker changed the children’s perspective on homelessness. The organization offers financial support and emergency housing for homeless families.

“They were shocked,” she said, to learn that a homeless person often “looks just like everybody else.”

The woman’s inspiration also intensified donation efforts for the organization. About 200 fifth and sixth-graders had already earned $600, doing chores for $3 each to collect money for Family Promise. Students chose that charity because it “sounded the most interesting and needed the most help,” said Nathan Smith, a sixth-grader at the school.

Teachers encouraged the group to pick a local organization where they could see their impact from up close.

After Spell brought the guest speaker to the school, the six classes stepped up their efforts, asking individuals and businesses to match their class’s contributions. They used the lessons learned in a unit on business letters to solicit the local businesses.

Two students spoke at Family Promise’s annual dinner in April, sharing what they’d learned about homelessness and asking for additional donations. They raised $8,000 that night.

And on Wednesday, Smith led the students in presenting Family Promise with a check for nearly $12,000. Since then, they have raised more, far surpassing the school’s previous fundraising projects.

Family Promise plans to use the students’ donation to assist local families, Spell said.

“A lot of children are going to be sleeping in beds,” she said.

The project allowed the students to better understand the issue of homelessness and those affected by it, said Erik Knudson, a sixth-grade teacher at the school.

“There are a lot of different kinds of homeless people,” Knudson said. “It’s nice for them to hear that.”

Julia Calagiovanni: (916) 321-1136,

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