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WEST CHESTER — The cafeteria at the St. Agnes School was temporarily transformed as sewing machines and irons replaced food and drinks on the tables.
For the fourth year in a row, seventh grade students set about making pillowcases for ConKerr Cancer, whose mission is to give “sick kids a reason to smile…one pillowcase at a time.”
“We do service because in seventh grade in Religion, it’s the life of Jesus,” said Jennifer Charney, a seventh grade teacher at St. Agnes. “I try to incorporate hands on projects and we look for charitable acts within the community. A mom a couple years ago sent me an article and we found this and we’ve run with it.”
ConKerr Cancer started in 2002 when founder Cindy Kerr’s son was diagnosed with cancer.
Kerr began making pillowcases as a way to brighten his hospital room up and after seeing how it affected him, she began making more for all the children at the Oncology Unit at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Then ConKerr Cancer was born.
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School groups, sewing circles, churches and more have taken part in ConKerr Cancer, and St. Agnes is among them.
“It’s really fun because we get to work together and create our own designs,” said Nicole Basile, a seventh grader at St. Agnes.
It all starts out when Charney and other parents — and sometimes students — go out and buy fabric. Then the students, with help of parent volunteers, take over.
“We have parents and children who will cut the fabric one day after school,” Charney said. “One day in school, we have the children pin them all. We’ve learned every year how to improve upon it and we’ve set up stations. Initially, we had every mom sewing with the child and doing the whole pillowcase. This year, we switched it up and tried to do more of an assembly-line type of procedure.”
Now, the kids go to different “stations” throughout the cafeteria as they go step-by-step putting together the pillowcases.
First, they sew the top half, then iron the fabric to make sure everything aligns correctly before more pinning and, finally, sewing both halves together to finish the pillowcase.
For many of the students, this is their first time doing one or two, if not all, the steps.
“I made one right now and I’m helping my friends with ironing,” Basile said. “It’s my first time sewing and ironing. It was kind of exciting.”
To help offset costs for the fabric and materials needed to do the project, St. Agnes uses the money raised from the students during their mini-societies.
“We do a mini-society that we create in seventh grade that goes cross-curriculum,” Charney said. “The money they earn from this mini-society pays for all the material.”
The mini-society is a way to tie in all the subjects the students are taking while having fun with it.
“They create their own society within the school,” Charney said. “We elect a president and they create a name for the society and a constitution. It’s this whole project that’s across the board. In the end, it culminates and we have a fair and they all create their own business and the money they earn from the businesses pays for this.”
ConKerr Cancer, which has delivered more than 990,000 pillowcases to 250 hospitals throughout the country, will be getting more once St. Agnes is finished with them.
“This year will be our biggest number,” Charney said. “We’ll have about 65 pillowcases that we’ll send.”
Though it may be fun for the students to create their own pillowcases, they also know the good they’re doing for someone else.
“It feels really good,” Basile said. “I feel something as small as this can really help someone. It really is nice.”