Oak Grove superintendent adds desks to wish list for poor school in Mexico
For each of the past six years at spring break, Oak Grove Elementary District 68 Superintendent Lonny Lemon has delivered thousands of pencils he and custodians found on the floors to a poor school in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
With those students also on break, bundled packages were thrown into the fenced courtyard with a note written in Spanish explaining the special delivery.
Last year the timing was such that Lemon for the first time met the students and staff members and saw the classrooms in person. Compared to U.S. schools, he found the conditions and equipment to be primitive.
With the revelation came an expanded mission and a GoFundMe campaign to raise $25,000.
"My goal is to find 400 decent desks," he said.
The floor at Ignacio L. Vallarta School is unpainted concrete, there are no bookshelves and the teachers have no supplies, Lemon said. The 30- to 40-year old desks are beat.
"Bringing pencils is easy. The point is to get to the next level," he said.
After the pencil campaign got some ink, bus drivers and others began bringing them in. An elderly woman in Rochelle sent six pencils, spending more in postage than the pencils cost. One man donated 2,000 rulers, Lemon said.
He expects to have more than 3,000 pencils for the March trek, most found in the hallways and classrooms of the Green Oaks school.
"Six of my eight custodians we're born in Mexico, so it's become a really important thing for them," Lemon said.
Raising money for desks is more complicated. Twenty years ago, Lemon met and befriended a family that still operates a small market next to the school. The son, Archie, remains a friend and has been doing reconnaissance on Lemon's behalf by scouting retail outlets for desks and speaking with the principal of the school he attended as a youth.
The local school has 800 students that attend in two shifts, hence 400 desks. Lemon said he considered sending Oak Grove's old desks, but there was no way to transport them. So, he is working with a Walmart in Puerta Vallarta to buy them for $65 each.
How many will be determined by fundraising, although Lemon says he doesn't want to wait until the entire amount has been donated.
"We're going down March 24 to April 1, our spring break. I'll have a good idea of how much I'll have by then," he said.
Lemon said he and his wife will donate $1,000, and he is not above a fundraising stunt if need be.
"I'll take a good, old bald head for a couple of grand in a heartbeat," he said.