RENSSELAER — St. Augustine Catholic Elementary School used this past week’s non-uniform day, and the rest of the month of November, to have its fourth and fifth graders raise funds and gather supplies for local causes.

The funds accumulated by the non-uniform day went toward the Rensselaer Volunteer Fire Department.

“If they wanted to engage in that dress-down non-uniform day, they just paid $2,” said Principal Jerry McKim. “A lot of parents knew what it was going for, so they were willing to help out here, too. They understood, especially after a couple weekends ago.”

The school was inspired to use the non-uniform day for this cause after seeing first responders at work during the Town Mall fire Nov. 17.

“I think anyone that watched the firefighters at work realized that there was a lot of sacrifices involved and it maybe generates new respect for our volunteers and what they do,” McKim said. “I know it did for me to see them out there that day. That was a mess.”

In addition to donations from the kids and their families, others have become involved in supporting the cause as well.

“It was kind of a way to get the kids thinking about civic responsibility and giving to their community,” McKim said. “I think all the teachers helped, too, and there’s been other people contribute. I think we had one donor that gave $100. I don’t know who that is. Their name was never revealed.”

The school ultimately raised $249 for the RVFD, which Fire Chief Kenny Haun and Capt. Brett Wilhite gratefully accepted.

Haun also reflected on how hard his and other departments worked against the Town Mall fire that day.

“I can’t say enough about my guys — not just my guys, everybody that helped,” Haun said. “But that was a long 30-some hours nonstop.”

The initial call came in at around noon and firefighters worked at the scene until around 10 p.m. that night.

“(It was) non-stop,” Haun recalled. “no break, and they’re hard at it. That only sounds like, ‘Oh, that’s only eight hours, Kenny, that’s no big deal.’ But it’s eight hours of hard physical moving. It’s like playing basketball for eight hours straight nonstop. No drink. No coffee. It was forever.”

Haun also said the firefighters who worked so long at the scene never fully realized how sore they were until they start taking their gear off afterwards.

The homeless

Angela Nagel, who teaches fourth and fifth grade at the school, used the entire month of November to have kids collect supplies to help the homeless people of Indianapolis. These supplies will be donated through a ministry at a parish operated by one of her relatives.

“Every November, we collect blankets, socks, coats for the Garden Door Ministry (of) St. John’s Church in Indianapolis,” Nagel said. “It provides sandwiches, drinks, needs of this nature, for the homeless men and women of Indianapolis.”

Nagel said they collected 66 blankets and “dozens” of socks this year.

“With our Catholic faith, we have corporal works of mercy,” she said. “And one of the corporal works of mercy is to shelter the homeless. So the blankets, unfortunately, they’ll be their ‘shelter’ for the winter in the streets.”

The kids’ passion for the project ramped up as their deadline drew near. This past week, Nagel planned to deliver all of the supplies to Indianapolis on Thanksgiving Day.

“This last week, we went from a few bags to this,” Nagel said, gesturing to the large bags piled up in school’s entryway. “It’s going to help a lot of our homeless.”