WASHINGTON, Ill. -- Handmade letters by the hundreds from local communities and from far away descended upon Washington Primary and Intermediate schools after the Nov. 17 tornado.
The overwhelming encouragement of every card and letter needed a proper platform to be seen, and soon each one lined the walls of hallways throughout the schools.
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"I was walking down the hallways really slowly reading all of them," said Madeline Brod, a fifth-grader at Washington Intermediate School whose house sustained heavy damage from the tornado. "It felt really good to know that people from all over the world care about things that happen to you."
Her attentive reading of each letter navigated Madeline to one composed by a girl her age who lives in Moore, Okla., a town that endured its own devastation from a deadly tornado. The meaning behind a letter from that town wasn't lost on Madeline.
"It was very inspiring almost because I know there was a little more damage there," she said. "So it was inspiring to have them write letters to us."
All of the letters were appreciated, but the first ones to arrive, from the students in Moore, left a special emotional imprint on Washington Intermediate Principal Brian Hoelscher. Even the smallest of phrases within each card -- like a simple "Hang in there" -- bore an important message that resonated with the students and faculty.
"When I opened them up, I about broke down," Hoelscher said. "Those were some of the nicest things I've ever received. But then more just kept coming in and coming in. There was no way that every kid could read every single letter. Allowing kids to walk by and read a few here and there, it was neat."
Eventually, the cards were taken down from the hallway walls and one was sent home with every student. But Washington Central and Intermediate students took home another gift: a soft blanket courtesy of the "Peanuts"-inspired national group the Linus Project. And the blankets were designated for every student, not merely the students from affected homes.
"I felt like all of our kids were affected in some way" said Jessica Uftring, a sixth-grade teacher at Washington Intermediate. "I thought it was cool to see all of the kids wrapped up in their blankets all day."
In the Washington schools, some think the arrival of spring will put the community on the road back to normal, and others expect it to begin when they return to their rebuilt homes. Madeline is confident it will happen someday.
There are a few things that have, but a lot of it's not normal yet," Madeline said. "And you can tell it will be. Just not anytime soon."