Jacob Wiebke helped push a wheel cart stacked with so many sacks and tubs of donated clothing that it wouldn't fit through Meeker Elementary School's narrow entrance on Monday.
In large part due to the passion of Wiebke, 11, a fifth grader at the school, students collected hundreds of used clothing items for Bethesda Lutheran Church's clothing closet.
“I don't want to take all the credit for it,” Wiebke said.
Wiebke, 11, a fifth grader at Meeker Elementary School, started the year hoping to lead a student council in a school-wide service project and gain some leadership experience.
But when he learned that, that wouldn't be possible, because his school didn't have a student government, he asked his teacher Dawn Remsberg if his fifth-grade class could at least do one thing to help others.
Wiebke Looked to His Classmates to Make the Project Work
Remsberg said Wiebke became a catalyst and spearheaded this service learning project initiative at Meeker.
“It's very important for him to help others,” Remsberg said.
Wiebke said his school hadn't had a student council or done a service project in several years which is one of the reasons he wanted to do something to help. Student governments typically focuses on Character Counts, a character education program that focuses on six pillars of character: caring, fairness, trust, respect, responsibility and citizenship.
Wiebke said his project fulfilled at least three of those pillars: Caring, Responsibility and Citizenship. He and his fellow classmates discussed what they could do to help others during school lunches and Wiebke brainstormed at home with his 15-year-old brother, Andrew, whose former student council bought Meeker students snow sleds.
Wiebke and other students talked about helping the survivors of the Joplin tornado, helping the animal shelter, or starting a food drive. Students finally agreed on collecting clothes for a clothes closet that Wiebke heard about at his church.
Wiebke hoped to gather 50 items but they collected more than 350 from three fifth grade classrooms and others who donated as well. Students spent their recesses sorting and counting the clothes and charted about 350 items.
“So it wasn't just helping the community,” Wiebke said, “we actually learned something.”
Wiebke and his mother delivered the items to Bethesda on Monday, where Wiebke attends church. The church offers both a food pantry and a clothes closet, which people are allowed to use once a month. Both are completely free.
Jeanne Wiebke said both of her sons have always wanted to help others, and she and her husband, Craig, simply allow them to. Ames might be thought of as an affluent area, but there are many people in need, Jeanne Wiebke said.
About 44 percent of students at both Meeker and Mitchell elementary schools and 45 percent of students at Edwards Elementary School qualify for free and reduced lunches because of their families' low income.
“The numbers are staggering,” Jeanne Wiebke said.
Pat Nervig, volunteer coordinator at the church, said they've seen an increased need in the clothing closet but use of the church food pantry has increased even more so. Nervig thanked Jacob for his class' gift that will be used to help Ames area residents. Anything that isn't snatched up from the Clothes Closet, a room in the church basement, will be sent with missionaries who travel to Appalachia.
“It feels good working here. We know we are helping people,” Nervig said.