As students at a Franklin elementary school filled up bags with snacks and basic necessities that will be given to needy families, the message from their teachers was about the importance of empathy and generosity.

About a dozen bins filled with soap, deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste, socks, water bottles and snacks were set up at the gymnasium at Creekside Elementary School on Tuesday morning. Students lined up to grab one of each item to put them in a gallon-sized plastic bag. The blessing bags, as physical education teacher Alysha Sherry termed them, will be later distributed to homeless and needy families in the community.

The project was one that Sherry had previously done with her family of five.

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“I try to think of different ways to encourage my own children to give back to the community do service orientated projects,” she said.

But making the blessing bags on the scale of an entire elementary school was a whole different challenge, Sherry said. Having enough items to let every student fill a bag meant getting more than 600 pieces of each item, which became a massive task, she said.

Students and families purchased and donated some items, and after reaching out to the community, Sherry got the remainder covered with donations from businesses and residents.

On Tuesday morning, teachers had to remind the excited students not to run as the kids got off the bleachers to begin filling the bags, an unusual admonition during gym class.

At the end of the line, a table was set up with cards and pens so students could write short, encouraging messages to whoever was to receive the bag.

The major emphasis of the project was for students to learn to have empathy for people less fortunate then them, Sherry said.

“We want to start a foundation in them so they’ll have that as they grow older,” she said.

“You matter like everyone else,” is what 9-year-old Trinten Dillard wrote.

Dillard brought tubes of toothpaste to donate. He said that what he learned from putting together the blessing bags was that everyone deserves help, no matter their situation.

The message 9-year-old Lexie Ruzga wrote was “I believe that you can make it through it.”

After students finished filling the bags and writing the notes, they settled in to watch a portion of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” a movie Sherry selected because of its lessons about the importance of generosity and giving back to others.

“I hope your heart grows three sizes,” was the message she told her students, a reference to how the Grinch reacts to learning how being generous affects himself.

Cohen Tilley, 10, said he hoped that the people who received the blessing bags will be happy to get them.

By the end of the day, students filled up more than 600 bags, which will later be delivered to KIC-IT, a nonprofit organization in Franklin which provides services to homeless children. Any bags that aren’t used will be given to school counselors, who can give them to kids and families in need, Sherry said.

“This makes sure students understand the importance of empathy, serving the community and giving back,” Sherry said. “It’s about shifting the focus, especially during the holiday season, of that it is better to give than to receive.”

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Jacob Tellers is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at jtellers@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2702.