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Friday, January 10, 2014 - 10:30am

GPB News Story Inspires Macon Woman To Buy Coats For Kindergarten Class

The so-called “polar vortex” that brought sub-zero temperatures or wind chills to much of Georgia is gone, but when Jack Frost comes back again, a class of Bibb County public school kindergarteners will be ready.

Macon pharmaceutical representative Hope Hahn Shields organized more than 40 friends on Facebook to donate winter weather gear for a class of 27 kids at Jesse Rice Elementary, a school in Macon’s Bloomfield neighborhood where nearly all of the students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced price lunch.

“It’s a very, very old school,” Shields said. “They don’t have up to date heating and cooling systems.” Rice Elementary is on a list of schools to be closed put forward by Interim Superintendent Stephen Smith.

The story of why Shields bought the winter gear actually begins with a news story on GPB.

When temperatures started plummeting Sunday night, Bibb County school officials opted to cancel school on Monday. The chatter on social media was that administrators were being over-cautious, considering that Macon’s low temperatures in the teens were mild compared to the extreme cold moving through the Midwest and Northeast at the time.

“So many people were saying ‘it’s so stupid,’” Shields recalled.

On that subject, GPB interviewed Eleta Morrison, a Houston County Veterans High School teacher who formerly taught in Bibb County schools.

“The county where I teach in Houston County has a very, very large middle class, we did not close today,” Morrison said in a news item that aired on GPB Macon radio Monday afternoon. “But in Bibb, a lot of students don’t come from homes where extras are always included, so a warm winter coat might be something that they don’t have.”

Morrison recalled how students at her old Bibb County school used to arrive at class on cold days wrapped in layers of blankets, instead of wearing a coat.

“Many students wake up very early in the morning and stand at bus stops, maybe for 30 minutes or more, and some of these students don’t have warm coats. In fact, most Georgians don’t have a lot of warm coats,” Morrison said in the Monday interview.

Hope Hahn Shields personally delivered winter garments to 27 children in Summer Wellborn’s kindergarten class.

NPR picked up a version of that story and ran it in a national newscast.

“That is how it started,” Shields said. She started chatting with her brother’s fiancé, Summer Wellborn, who teaches at Rice Elementary. “I just asked her what they needed. Could I buy them some scarves and some hats … it seemed like all 27 of those children (in Wellborn’s class) could use something.”

Realizing that the job might be too big for one person, Shields posted online, asking if anyone might kick in some money for the cause.

“Facebook just really blew up,” Shields said.

With the money she raised via PayPal and with a few in-person checks, Shields went shopping Wednesday afternoon and purchased hats and gloves for all 17 boys and 10 girls in the class, as well as coats for seven students who lacked them.

Shields then personally delivered the goods to Wellborn’s class.

“This one child just tugged on me and he’s like, ‘Ms. Hope, thank you so much for my coat.’ And I leaned down and I kissed him on the nose and I said ‘you are welcome,’” Shields said, tearing up. “I said ‘you stay warm, ok?’”

Wellborn told Shields that every student in the class wore their hats and gloves back to school on Thursday.

Shields hopes her act of kindness will inspire others to do the same. “It was no big deal to do this,” she said. “I had donations as little as $10.00 and as much as $100.00.”

“We’ve got to take care of these children,” Shields said.

Here's a slideshow of the 27 children in Summer Wellborn's class who received new winter gear. (Photos courtesy of Hope Hahn Shields).

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