WILSON -- Three popular pachyderms have friends at Wilson Middle School, joined by supporters in the Barker, Medina and Starpoint school districts.
The Buffalo Zoo's female Asian elephants -- Buki, Surapa and Jothi -- will soon have roomier surroundings, thanks in part to the pupils from Wilson. They spearheaded a fundraising campaign for the Zoo's Elephant House Renovation Project this spring.
Wilson invited the Barker, Medina and Starpoint middle schools to join a friendly little fundraising competition, which resulted in a total gift of $8,337.
That money was part of the $365,000 the public raised for the zoo project, which has an estimated price tag of $1.2 million, said Jennifer Fields, the zoo's public relations coordinator.
The public fund drive closed last month, while the zoo is still awaiting word on its grant applications to help finance the project, Fields said.
The expansion project, which could begin late this summer or early in the fall, will reconfigure the inside of the existing elephant house, increasing the interior space to 1,800 square feet from 1,050 square feet. A third stall also will be added.
Changes cannot be made to the building's exterior, which was built in 1912, because it is on the National Register of Historical Places, Fields said.
"This money means a lot to us," she said. "The elephants have always been popular in the community, but to see how truly popular the girls are is very exciting."
And, she added, "This shows the children that they are able to make a difference and that every penny counts."
A good portion of the donations came in loose change, said Mark Duguay, a sixth-grade reading teacher at Wilson Middle School who dreamed up the school fundraiser after learning about the zoo's plea for donations.
"As a youngster, I went to the Buffalo Zoo many times, and I remember that the elephants had a small building, and I thought this would be a nice idea," he said.
After receiving permission from Principal Peter Rademacher and School Superintendent Michael Wendt, he invited Barker, Medina and Starpoint to join in.
"We made it a little bit of a contest between the four schools," Duguay recalled.
While Wilson collected the most -- and, in fact, was named the zoo's top school fundraiser -- Duguay was quick to add that his school had the opportunity to reach out to the surrounding community, as well.
"We put 32 canisters with elephant ears and noses on them in businesses in the area and collected over $700 just from the canisters alone," he said.
Other fundraisers held within the Wilson school included a read-a-thon, where pupils collected pledges to read an hour after school each day, and the sale of the zoo's rubber wrist bands.
"Also, we held a contest to design a logo for a T-shirt, and Destiny Snickles' design was chosen and printed on a T-shirt, and we sold a whole bunch of them," Duguay said. "And the Students Against Destructive Decision-Making had a giant jar of peanuts and charged a dollar a guess" for the number in the jar.
Duguay said the majority of the school's 370 pupils participated in the various fundraisers, and teacher Amy Seeley helped keep track of the amounts from each school for a chart posted next to the school cafeteria.
Starpoint Middle School Principal James Bryer headed his school's effort; while teacher Joy Dabill was in charge at Barker; and teacher Kristen Armenia led Medina's effort.
"The kids worked so hard to do this," Duguay said. "This was a heck of a lot of money, especially for rural communities where people are hurting. We were counting nickels, dimes and pennies. It was a lot of work, but a lot of fun."