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Lenore Tetkowski: New generation keeps UNICEF dream alive

For the first October in 60 years, I am not “The UNICEF Lady” for Grand Island. This began for me nearly a lifetime ago when my oldest child went to the Grand Island Cooperative Nursery School, and we learned about Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF. Children helping children and sharing the fun of Halloween was so wholesome and promising!

My involvement and passion grew, and when I was president of the Parent Teachers Association, I gained permission to distribute educational teaching materials and the little orange boxes to all interested students. UNICEF cartons were also available at churches and banks.

The other Grand Island schools willingly participated. There was a chairperson for UNICEF in each school, who handled publicity and distribution. From opening boxes at the kitchen table and rolling sorted coins as a little neighborhood group, the collection grew to using Girl and Boy Scouts. A local bank accepted bags of sorted coins for its counting machine, and issued a check to UNICEF.

Another bank allowed me to put up a yearly exhibit about UNICEF’s important work in its large window. Pizza places, beauty shops and pharmacies had UNICEF collection boxes near their cash registers. Our town supervisor proclaimed Oct. 31 Grand Island UNICEF Day.

Showing its leaders’ passion for 35 years, Boy Scout Troop 254, now 510, planned its calendar to include “Opening and sorting UNICEF coins.”

As an art teacher at Grand Island High School, I organized a puppet show using handmade puppets for an assembly program, to tell about the need for clean water and schools in other parts of the world, and the role of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund.

My Art Club was allowed to sell UNICEF greeting cards during lunchtime. I also sold these directly from my home for decades.

The local weekly newspaper always includes a photo of costumed youngsters carrying UNICEF boxes, focusing on a different school each October.

Teachers organized “dress- down day” and raised generous amounts for UNICEF. One year the high school Student Council donated all of its profits from a flower sale. And a retired school nurse had a yard sale solely for UNICEF.

Our self-made goal for our annual Halloween collection has been $2,000, and in most recent years we have reached it. Last October, however, was a stormy night and our total fell far short. When a former student heard that, and that it would be my last year as UNICEF chairwoman, he encouraged many other former students to send additional checks. These professional adults, graduates of Grand Island High School years ago who fondly remembered carrying the little boxes, were motivated to help. Many checks arrived, and we surpassed our goal!

Now that I am past 90, I have found a dedicated successor. I will miss hand-delivering UNICEF boxes to the Grand Island Cooperative Nursery School, which continues to participate. Our community has never stopped supporting this annual activity, where our youngsters directly help other kids whose needs are enormous.

You can become a UNICEF volunteer. At its website, UNICEF.com, abundant information is available for getting started.