Thanks to one family in Union, Ky., students in Bowling Green, Ky. affected by the western Kentucky tornadoes got Christmas a little early this year.
Courtney Sherrill and Morgan Roberts teach English as a Second Language for the Bowling Green Independent School district and many of their students are refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan or part of families seeking asylum from countries in Latin America.
Adversity is hardly new to the kids, but the tornadoes that hit western Kentucky were a blow for families already hoping to rebuild their lives.
"(Our students) didn't want to leave their houses," Sherrill said. "They worked hard to get to this point and they didn't want to leave their belongings behind and stuff even when their houses weren't deemed safe to stay in. That was kind of hard to watch."
Roberts and Sherrill hatched a plan to spend their own money to bring happier holidays to their students, but when Roberts' parents in Union found out, they intervened. Instead of the teachers supplying gifts, Roberts' family asked neighbors and friends for donations, which stacked higher and faster than anyone imagined.
"Knowing that someone is doing something with them specifically in mind is really a reassuring feeling for them as kids as they kind of navigate this really tricky time for them," said Sherrill.
In one week, they raised nearly $17,000, more than $8,000 in gift cards, food and enough household items to stock a makeshift store in the Bowling Green Junior High School.
"It truly left us all speechless," Roberts said. "Working with the families we do, a lot of these kids aren't used to having something new. It is such a positive uplifting energy for them."
The Union couple delivered all of it to Bowling Green on Saturday.
On Twitter, the superintendent, who grew up in northern Kentucky, said his heart is full and thanked Roberts' family and friends.
"Some of our students, we take them the school lunch (and) they're like oh we're sick of peanut butter and jelly or whatever," Sherrill said. "So when they get that McDonald's or Dominos gift card they're like oh we're getting good chicken tonight. It's not going to solve all their problems by any means. Just being able to give them something to cheer them up in the meantime around the holidays has been rewarding for us and I think something that the kids really needed."