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UTAHNS LEND HELPING HAND TO HURRICANE VICTIMS

Youngsters at Welby Elementary School are extending a long-distance helping hand to their counterparts in hurricane-ravaged Florida, collecting everything from canned goods to crayons as part of an adopt-a-school effort.

The idea emerged last week after PTA member Debbie Tur-nidge was moved to tears by television footage of a little girl in Florida armed with a shotgun guarding her family's car, which contained everything they had left."My first thought was, `She should be in school,' " said Turnidge. "I knew if we ever had a disaster, what a relief it would be to have a place to send my children while I got our lives back together. They need to get back to a somewhat normal life."

Fellow PTA member DeAnna Murphy helped organize the collection drive that is first concentrating on basics, such as food and clothes, and secondly, on school supplies ranging from textbooks to erasers.

Florida school officials told Murphy that Welby Elementary was the first school to volunteer last week, although others have done so since then.

Right now Florida officials are still figuring out what they need, so the Welby collection effort could continue for a matter of weeks. A local trucking firm has volunteered to haul the supplies to their destination.

Hurricane Andrew destroyed at least 22 schools and officials still are surveying 60 others, according to Murphy. She said 65,000 children were directly affected.

Just yesterday, officials in Dade County, Florida, began busing children to undamaged schools in the northern part of the county where pupils will attend in double shifts. Florida officials are so busy sizing up the wreckage, they haven't had time to assign a school to adopt, but would welcome any help.

Murphy said she has been heartened by responses from local children and teens who have called and asked what they could do. Besides assisting youngsters in Florida, she believes this will be a good lesson for Utah schoolchildren.

"We want to help open their eyes to the outside world and experience some compassion," Murphy said. "We want them to realize they can do something."

Adults have gotten into the effort, too. Among them: PTA president Margaret Bray, who has done much legwork, and Margie Knudsen, the lunch secretary, who assisted with a colorful bulletin board.

Also, teachers in all classes are requiring students to write to Florida youngsters.

This seems to make sense to Welby students.

"The kids in Florida lost all they had, so we're helping them because we have things we can send to them," explained Ryan Grow, 12.

"We're a lot more fortunate than a lot of people, so we should be the ones to help," said Rachel Malloy, 11.

"I think we need to help and more schools should, too," said Clint Draper, 11.

That is a sentiment shared by by the adults involved. Anyone who wants information on how to set up an adopt-a-school drive can call DeAnna Murphy at 569-8029 or Debbie Turnidge at 569-8718.