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Bringing comfort to those in need

Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe Worthington Middle School sixth graders in the EDGE after-school program pose with some of the comfort kits they assembled Thursday noon for the Southwest Minnesota Chapter of the American Red Cross. The kits are given to victims of disasters such as house fires, tornadoes and floods. The EDGE program teaches students about the importance of volunteering in their community.

WORTHINGTON -- Students in Worthington Middle School's EDGE program took time out from their noon lunch Thursday to help assemble comfort kits for the Southwest Minnesota Chapter of the American Red Cross.

The kits, filled with essential hygiene items such as toothpaste, shampoo, shaving cream, deodorant and a wash cloth, are given to victims of disasters ranging from house fires to tornadoes and floods.

Several weeks ago, local Red Cross executive director Joyce Jacobs spoke to sixth grade students in the EDGE after-school program about the work of the Red Cross and how the kits are used. She returned to the middle school on Thursday to watch as the students filled 120 kits, including 70 for adults (separated between male and female), and 50 for children. The kits will remain at the Red Cross office in Worthington until they are needed.

"It's a great way for young people in the community to help out the Red Cross," said Jacobs of the project. "A comfort kit is just that -- it brings comfort to someone who has lost everything in a disaster."

Jacobs serves a five-county area of southwest Minnesota, and likes to have 150 to 300 comfort kits on hand in case of an emergency. These kits will now replenish her supply.

While Jacobs said the majority of kits are used in the five-county area, there are circumstances in which they'll travel farther.

"When the call comes in, wherever the kits are needed, that's where they'll go," she said.

Robby Vargas, service learning coordinator with the Nobles County Integration Collaborative, organized Thursday's effort. Donations of toiletries were collected from Sorensen's Family Dentistry office in Worthington, as well as Walgreens. The remaining items were purchased with Collaborative funds.

"Service Learning is for kids to get involved ... and address a need in the community," said Vargas, adding that the comfort kits were an easy project for students to help with. Other programs he helped lead with EDGE members this school year were writing letters to armed forces members, making posters against bullying, planting flowers at a local assisted living facility and coordinating the eighth graders to serve at the community's Bread of Life feeding ministry.

Selam Salim said Thursday's comfort kit assembly was among her favorite community projects in EDGE. The other was to visit on the Internet to help send rice to people in need.

Several students gathered after assembling their kits and talked of how good it feels to be able to help someone in need.

"We're helping people from other (areas) who have lost their stuff," said Michelle Ramirez.

"It's cool because you get to help other people," chimed in Trystan Heser, who stuffed hand sanitizer, a towel, toothbrush, toothpaste, shaving cream, deodorant and a shaver into a bag labeled for a male recipient.

Briana Castro was more somber about the bags, saying, "It makes me sad thinking about kids who've lost everything and we have everything."

"They're going to feel happy because we helped them," added Elizabeth Ortiz. "I was kind of excited to help them."

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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