Meadville Tribune

February 8, 2013

First-grader's holiday wish grows into charitable phenomenon

By Konstantine Fekos
Meadville Tribune

VERNON TOWNSHIP — The lasting impact of a first-grader’s letter to Santa Claus, one that sparked a rush of charitable support from West End Elementary School and the Meadville community, is still apparent well into the new year.

When Lilly Groover first drafted her letter, asking not for presents but for donations to relieve the world’s needy, she never thought her initiative would elicit such a dramatic response.

“I didn’t expect that many people (to help), so it was a surprise,” she said. When asked why she pursued the project to begin with, Groover simply stated it felt “right and good to help other people.”

Susan Groover, Lilly’s mother, helped her collect $551 to send to Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, servicing the poor, sick and hungry denizens of more than 100 nations.

Items purchased through Samaritan’s Purse included blankets, mosquito nets and quantities of food for children and adults.

Originally intended for family members, as well as Mr. Claus, the letter’s eventual circulation through West End Elementary served to rally Groover’s classmates as well as teachers and administrators.

“When I first got the letter, I expected (students) would want to help, but I didn’t expect the faculty and staff,” said teacher Jennifer Simpson, who helped expand the holiday project along with Principal Tamara Clark.

Simpson sent notifications home with her students, hoping to give them a real-world example of classroom lessons like generosity and acts of kindness.

“I didn’t know that the outcome would be so great,” she added. “It was a complete surprise.”

West End Elementary contributed $233 between students and staff. Members of the Groover family who received the letter donated $90 and an additional $228 came in from community members.

One notable check came in from Connecticut, Susan Groover recalled.

“We were contacted by a woman who said she saw the article about Lilly’s letter and wanted to donate,” she said. “I didn’t know if it was real or where she was calling from until the check came in. She even called to verify its delivery.”

Still coming down from the exciting news, Lilly Groover has already begun planning her next holiday charity endeavors.

“I’m thinking about packing (care packages) for wounded soldiers and helping throughout the neighborhood,” she said. “It’s exciting to do stuff for others.”

The main ideas so far include helping area children in need and aiding the Wounded Warrior project, which provides programs and services to injured military personnel between active tours or transitioning back to civilian life.

Lilly Groover implied she may once again count on her classmates next Christmas to help maximize the charity benefit to whatever groups and organizations she chooses to serve.

In the meantime, she and her mother are looking into year-round community service efforts they can join.

“To see such a big heart for her to be giving is just touching,” Susan Groover said. “I’ll do whatever I can to help others in need and help her help others in need.”

Konstantine Fekos can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at