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Article updated: 2/11/2013 7:09 PM

Third graders at Oak Grove School follow business plan to feed kids in Haiti

By Mick Zawislak

A field trip to a facility that packages meals for starving children inspired a business for a third-grade class and earned students a visit Monday from the CEO of the worldwide organization.

The students in Maria Luce's Curriculum Enhancement Services class of gifted third-graders at Oak Grove School in Green Oaks raised more than $700 for the Feed My Starving Children organization.

Mark Crea, the executive director and CEO, was in the area Sunday for the official dedication of the Libertyville facility and decided to check in at Oak Grove on Monday to say thanks.

"Kids provide a significant amount of the volunteering and support," Crea said. "It's kids feeding kids."

In November, the class was chosen to attend the opening of the Feed My Starving Children facility in Libertyville, the largest Chicago-area operation for the Minneapolis-based charitable organization.

The 12 students in Luce's class left with more than an initial sense of satisfaction and decided there was more to be done. Luce suggested the class start a company to raise funds, and "Helping Hands for Haiti" was launched.

"I taught them economic concepts, and they ran the business," she said.

Deciding on a product to sell was the first order of business for the class. Origami or posters were considered too involved, and jewelry was thought to have a limited audience.

Once bookmarks were chosen, committees were formed to deal with design, production, marketing, and sales. The class learned the difference between mass production and unit production and got to work, Luce said.

They colored, punched holes and tied yarn to create more than 2,000 bookmarks out of construction paper with one of five slogans. One of them was a drawing of a dinosaur with the message "Make Hunger Extinct."

"They were kind of moved to do more -- they wanted to help," Luce said.

For four days in January, the class manned sales tables in both cafeterias at Oak Grove. They sold bookmarks for a quarter each to other students, friends and family.

With more than $700 to give, Luce said she contacted Crea to see if they could drop off the funds. He did them one better, saying he was so impressed he wanted to visit.

The class gave him a basket of change and bills the students had collected.

"That money at Feed My Starving Children will feed 3,181 children," according to Crea. "That made their eyes get real big and they got real excited," he said of the Oak Grove class.

The Libertyville site produced more than 1 million "Manna Packs" in its first four weeks.

Luce said the student company will continue operations on a more limited basis.

"They're thinking they might want to sell franchises," Luce said. "I'm not sure how that's going to work."

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