Apr. 13—BIG LAKE — With a little creativity and a lot of dedication, a decadeslong Big Lake Elementary School tradition threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic was able to continue.
For the past 21 years, the school has participated in the annual Kid's Heart Challenge fundraiser sponsored by the American Heart Association, physical education teacher Matt Holmes said.
In the past, schoolwide assemblies have been held to excite and engage students in the fundraiser and in learning about heart health, Holmes said.
But this year, with classrooms at reduced capacities and assemblies on hold, the fate of the fundraiser began to look as if it would be lost to the pandemic.
"This year, I wasn't sure if we were going to do it or not," Holmes said.
But with some creative planning and unique incentives, the school has raised $10,000 for the American Heart Association — the most during its years in the fundraiser.
"The donations just kept pouring in," Holmes said. "It's beautiful to see. People are still wanting to give and help."
While the event usually kicks off with an in-person presentation from the American Heart Association, this year the organization held separate virtual assemblies to make sure that all students — who are only on campus part time — got to participate, Holmes said.
While the camaraderie of working together was greatly reduced this year, Holmes said teachers came up with another way to get kids involved: by allowing them to throw chocolate, berry or whipped cream pies in teachers' faces after fundraising goals were met.
"The kids were super stoked about it," Holmes said. "We wanted to make it more exciting and a little bit more accessible."
About 30 Big Lake Elementary School staff volunteered to get pies thrown and pushed in their faces, Holmes said.
"It's been a strange year for everybody and we're all just getting our kicks in different places," he said.
One third-grade boy, who has been one of the school's top fundraisers for several years, not only got to watch some of his teachers get pies thrown in their faces, he got to participate.
With help from family and friends, and a matching donation from Boeing where his dad works, Henry Adams raised $2,000 for this year's fundraiser.
"A lot of my family members have heart disease," Henry said. "It makes me happy that I'm able to donate to research for it."
For his hard work, he got to put pies in the faces of the school's kindergarten teachers, he said.
"It was fun," Henry said of his first pie-throwing experience.
Of course, some of his teachers were happy to return the favor, with Henry receiving a berry pie to his face.
"We had berry pie all over everything," Henry's mother, Kim Adams, said.
When she was at school at Big Lake Elementary, Henry's older sister Lilly, now a high school freshman, was also one of the top students in raising money for the event, Kim Adams said.
"I really love this fundraiser, so we just go all out," she said.
For Holmes, the fundraiser was another way to show support and build community during what has been a difficult time for many. By still being able to participate — and exceeding expectations — the kids will hopefully see that they too can help.
"I think that was really inspiring," Holmes said. "It's cool for the kids to see, 'Oh hey, we can make a difference.'"