When it came time for the third graders at Joseph Pennell Elementary School to decide where to donate proceeds from an annual yard sale, the choice was easy.
Less than two weeks earlier, Fire Department Lt. Robert Neary and firefighter Daniel Sweeney were killed in a tragic blaze at the Thomas W. Buck Hosiery building in the city’s Kensington section.
Those families were hurting, the thinking went, so we should do something for them.
On April 20, unbeknownst to the Fire Department, Judy Willner’s class raised $881 by selling donated items, or those they brought in from home.
Shortly thereafter, a department captain came to the Nedro Avenue school’s Room 210 to give a fire-safety presentation.
At the end of the assembly, the class presented him with a notebook filled with messages of condolences, and a check to give to the survivors of the fallen firefighters.
“He was blown away,” recalled Willner. “I didn’t even know he did this, but he called [Eighth District City] Councilwoman Cindy Bass asking if she would send the class a thank-you card.”
Honored by City Council
A group of students, along with Willner, some parents and school Principal Jason Harris got more than a Hallmark acknowledgement at Thursday’s City Council meeting.
Bass honored them with a citation (PDF) noting that Council “is pleased and proud to honor [them] for the care and concern they displayed to the families of Ladder 10 Firefighters who lost their lives fighting a fire in an abandoned warehouse.”
Those inside the packed council chambers also honored the students, not with a citation but with a standing ovation for their “random acts of kindness.”
“After suffering a loss like that, we ask what do we do next? What happens afterwards?” Bass said. “What happened afterwards for these students was raising money for [survivors of those lost] from a ladder company in their neighborhood.”
Speaking on behalf of the class, Willner noted that while the students’ curriculum includes reading, mathematics and other academic staples, time is also dedicated to “helping others and doing good deeds. … These are wonderful, caring human beings.”
Bill Gault, president of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 22, agreed.
“I’m very proud of them,” he said after being invited up to pose in a photograph with the students and councilmembers. “This kind of thing shows firefighters that the citizens care about us.”