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Local student leads tornado relief effort

Jessie Latham, 11, of Mount Jackson, rolls out a cart of items outside Ashby Lee Elementary School in Quicksburg on Friday. Jessie spearheaded a project to collect items for tornado victims in Moore, Okla., and her father, a truck driver, is delivering the collected items to Oklahoma next week. Rich Cooley/Daily

James Latham of Mount Jackson loads donated items inside this tractor trailer parked outside Ashby Lee Elementary School on Friday. Latham's daughter, Jessie, 11, spearheaded a project to collect donated items for victims of the tornado in Moore, Okla. Latham plans to deliver the items next week. Rich Cooley/Daily

By Kim Walter

QUICKSBURG -- A Shenandoah County student has taken it upon herself to get the local community involved in relief efforts for victims of last week's devastating tornado in Moore, Okla.

In the days following the tragedy, news organizations continued to broadcast photos, videos and information about the impacted area and residents of the city. It was after watching the footage that 11-year-old Jessie Latham decided she wanted to do something about it.

"I was sitting on the sofa watching the news, and I felt really sad," Jessie said Friday afternoon as she stood in a classroom at Ashby Lee Elementary School. "Especially when they started talking about the school that was destroyed, and the kids ... I wanted to help them."

So the fifth grader asked her mother, Meagan Latham, if they could somehow use her father's job as a truck driver to actually make something happen. Mrs. Latham had her daughter call her father, Jamie Latham, and tell him about her idea to get donated relief items to the Moore community.

Jessie's father often drove through Oklahoma during his routes as a private contractor, and the family was recently able to pay off his 53 foot tractor-trailer. Since her dad owned the truck, she thought it might be easier for him to make an extra stop that wasn't part of work.

"I think her dad about cried when she asked him to help her," Mrs. Latham said. "Proud doesn't cover how she has made me feel."

Jessie's mother quickly contacted the American Red Cross to make sure they would have a place to take any items they collected. From there, she got in touch with Ashby Lee Principal Stephen Povlish.

"She really wanted her friends and the rest of the school to be a part of it," said Mrs. Latham. "Mr. Povlish helped me put together a letter to send him with parents and it really got the kids interested."

After a little over a week, two other collection spots opened up - the St. Luke Brethren Church in Woodstock and the Mount Jackson Fire Department.

The Save-A-Lot store in Mount Jackson also agreed to donate a palette of water, while other individuals have dropped off gift cards to use at grocery or other stores.

"Someone actually went to the church recently and just gave $1,000 and asked that we go shopping for things with it, which we did right away," Meagan said. "It was amazing."

The school alone filled several carts with items like clothes, towels, toilet paper, toiletries and nonperishable foods. Groups of teachers and students to had lend a hand just to take loads out to Jessie's father's truck on Friday.

Jessie's mother said the idea has evolved into a true "community effort."

Jessie said she never thought they would get this much. "... I heard the other collection sites have more than the school," she said. "I'm so pumped right now!"

On Saturday, the church in Woodstock will hold a breakfast from 8 a.m. to noon and will continue to collect last-minute items or gift cards. The family will make the last collection stop on Sunday at the fire department.

Jessie's father, who has been a truck driver for 20 years, said he has seen his share of natural disasters and always wished he could help. However, since the tractor-trailer wasn't yet paid off, he couldn't afford to take time off for charity trips.

"I'm so glad that this time it worked out," Latham said as the pile of items slowly started to fill up his truck. "I can't say that I'm surprised that Jessie thought to do this, though. She's always been one to step up and help."

Although the family's home in Mount Jackson is about 1,250 miles from the Red Cross drop-off location, Jessie still thought it was important to do her part.

"Every little bit counts," she said. "Even if this helps one kid or family get through the day a little easier, then it was the right thing to do."

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com


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