When students at Holy Family School in Southeast Portland learned of the devastating wildfires in Australia, they were spurred to action, rallying the entire school to support others on the opposite side of the globe.

As of late January, about 30 people, including four firefighters, had been killed and more than 24.7 million acres of bush, forest and parks across Australia had burned.

Concerned for her native land, fourth grader Georgia Hall wasted no time in going to the principal, Joe Galati, to urge him to support fundraising efforts to help the country’s people and wildlife.

Students on the school’s environmental stewardship team, driven by their commitment to care for God’s creation, also reached out to staff members asking for help in raising money. “I have a passion for forests and animals,” said team member Alejandra Garcia. “Hearing the number of animals killed and injured made an impact on me. We have such a good community here. I thought people would want to help out.” 

Garcia was right. Her community was quick to respond. Together, students, staff and families launched two fundraisers — “Cans for Koalas” and “Free Dress for Firefighters.”

Every student at Holy Family, from kindergarten to eighth grade, worked in a small group to create posters to raise awareness and promote the fundraisers. Teachers talked to their students about the damage done to the eucalyptus forests by the bushfires. Classes read books and watched videos about Australian animals. They published articles in the school newsletter and classroom newsletters to promote the campaigns.

Parents agreed to collect cans and bottles and donate the proceeds to Australian wildlife rescue and recovery. Students and staff wore free dress and donated well more than the suggested amount of $1 each to support Australian firefighters.

Tom Chipps, himself a firefighter and a Holy Family parent, even loaned his fireman boots to hold the donations.

“It was incredibly inspiring to me,” said Galati. “The way our families, students and staff all came together as a community to respond to this need. It’s such a powerful example of our Catholic faith at work. Holy Family is a very special school.”

“I am so proud of Georgia for helping spearhead these fundraisers,” added Diane Masini, Hall’s fourth grade teacher. “She exemplifies our schoolwide learning expectation of being a faith-filled learner and has internalized the Catholic social justice principles, which we try to instill here. It’s opportunities like these that teach our students that their actions can make a difference in the world.”

Spatz is a second grade teacher at Holy Family School in Southeast Portland.