BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
DONNELLSON – A couple of months ago an FMHS student collected a semi full of supplies for hurricane-ravaged areas of the country, a middle school student sold pet pillows for the Toys for Tots program, and now Lila Shepard, a 10-year-old from Central Lee, is collecting LEGOs for children in Nepal.
The effort, which began about a year ago, resulted in several totes of the stackable plastic toys being carted off to the linear country located in Asia nestled between China and India.
Lila Shepard began collecting the toys for the students last year after recalling a news program she had watched a few years ago.
“Ok, so it was, like, three years ago and I was watching the news and saw some boy was collecting LEGOs for kids in Africa. So about a year ago, I thought to myself, ‘Hey, I could do that for these kids’,” she said Thursday after speaking to about half the student body at the elementary.
Shepard is working with former Central Lee science teacher Ernie Schiller, who’s taken about three trips to the area after an earthquake decimated the region in 2015.
Lila’s mother, Nicole Farrell, said family members, co-workers, and other Iowa communities are starting to get on board with project.
“We gave Ernie about five tote loads a couple weeks ago after a newspaper article came out. We had great results from that,” she said. “But we want to be gentle about it, we don’t want to be pushy and we want this to come from the heart. We don’t want to make people think they have to do it,” she said.
Schiller said the whole idea about the LEGOs came from the young girl and he said her efforts to “Pay it Forward” as he repeatedly told the group of children at the assembly, could become a national effort.
He said a video is being sent to national media programs including Ellen DeGeneres, Mike Rowe, Oprah Winfrey, and the Today Show to try and draw a bigger helping hand with the project.
Shepard said the video is an easy conversation with Schiller.
“We sent them a video with me and Ernie talking about what we’re doing and about how their involvement would really help our project,” she said. “We’re trying to get, like, Ellen DeGeneras or Oprah to help us build the program.”
Schiller said it’s like a fireside chat and the two just discuss the Pay it Forward mentality and how this 9-year-old girl is helping these children who have little to nothing on a daily basis.
“It’s a conversation with Lila and I, trying to explain the project. For a nine year old kid to come up with that..it’s pretty amazing.”
Schiller said it’s becoming more common to see children taking up projects for the less fortunate.
“I think that parents are so busy that kids are now having to think outside the box. Kids are allowed time to think about making a difference. The innocence of paying it forward is coming from a lot of these kids and, honestly, I just don’t really know where that is coming from.”
The two asked the children to look for small LEGOs they may have that they would like to donate to the project. Schiller challenged the students to color a picture and write a note to the students to ask questions and write about their lives here in Iowa and then attach a quarter or a dollar to help fund books and other supplies.
Schiller said the land raised about 10 feet during the quake and destroyed basically the entire region’s way of life and the rebuilding process is still going on. Schiller’s trips have been focused on rebuilding and invigorating the area’s educational system. He is planning on leaving again in June for another trip and hopefully will have raised enough money to send a container full of LEGOs and other science supplies to the region.
People in the area live on rice, potatoes, corn and raise waterbuffalo. Existence requires everyone in each family involved in bringing in the crops and moving to the next seasonal planting while tending to the livestock. He said markets are rare and sporadic in the area and familes eat what they raise, and raise what they eat.
Donations can be made at https://www.gofundme.com/2f2mgsek or Ernest Schiller, Rebuild Nepal Education, 2224 204th Avenue, Donnellson, Iowa 52625. Special accounts are also in place at Pilot Grove Savings Banks throughout the area.
More information about the LEGOs program can be obtained by contacting Farrell at (319) 631-0206.