Friends with Paws: Sutton students donate 4.9K items to local animal shelters

Mar. 18—For eight years, Sutton Elementary School students have collected items to donate to local animal shelters in honor of Melissa Baber, a former school staff member, who died suddenly. The 2023 drive began on Monday and ended Friday.

Tiffany Hoffman, kindergarten teacher at Sutton, said Melissa Baber was an assistant of hers for several years.

"I was very close to her family, and on the year anniversary of her death, I wanted to do something for them so they could remember her and have a better, positive day," she said.

From that sparked the idea of Friends with Paws.

"We started it just within my classroom and the goal was to raise 100 items," she said. "It's been eight years and it's become a school-wide and community-wide event."

Hoffman said that, to date, Sutton has collected and donated almost 30,000 items to the shelters.

Sherry Baber, the mother of Melissa Baber, spoke during Friday's assembly to show their family's gratitude for the school and the event.

"It is such an exciting time for all of us, especially her family," she said. "Every year I think I am not going to cry but I usually do because it's such a meaningful time for us. Eight years later, she is still remembered by Sutton Elementary."

Sherry Baber said the Friends with Paws initiative is special to their family because of the "amazing job" Sutton does every year with the program.

"Thank you for caring about the animals, but most of all, thank you for caring about and remembering Melissa," she said.

This year's Friends with Paws drive was a little different as members from the Owensboro High School and Kentucky Wesleyan College football teams encouraged students to bring in supplies.

"Every other time it's been per classroom and this time we decided to make it a little different with Team OHS and Team KWC," Hoffman said.

Kindergarten, third and fourth grades were on Team OHS and first, second and fifth grades on Team KWC to see who could bring in more donations, and the winning team was announced Friday during an assembly at the school.

"They came to our morning assemblies to get the kids hyped up for the drive," Hoffman said.

Kristin Tines, a guidance counselor at Sutton, said this year's drive was "extra special" with the additional community involvement from the football teams.

"We had some football players from KWC come read to our students several weeks ago and they were phenomenal," she said. "What was super cool was how much they loved it so immediately it was planted in my head to see how else we could get them involved."

OHS' team brought in 2,349 items and KWC's team brought in 2,556, making them the winner. In total, 4,905 items were donated to the Daviess County Animal Shelter and Saving Paws Animal Rescue of Kentucky (SPARKY).