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Little girl with big heart spearheads clothing drive

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By Rose Domenick
Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, 9:01 p.m.

Helping others is a natural way of thinking for Margo Warnken, a third-grader at Stanwood Elementary School in Hempfield Area School District.

“She has an old soul, is what I like to say,” said Brooke Warnken, her mother, from their rural Hunker home. “One day she may join the Peace Corps.”

When teacher Kristin Pollak assigned a challenge to find a way to help others feel good as part of the national “I Will” campaign, all Margo had to do was find the paper she wrote during the summer while she was recovering from surgery.

“My teacher showed a clip of 9/11 … how important it is to be kind to others and to think of our own way to pay it forward,” said 8-year-old Margo.

“I had my idea already,” she added, noting her project is called “Operation M.A.S.K.” for “Making a Statement of Kindness.”

Margo, 8, had plenty of time to think during her time off school.

She spent the majority of the summer recuperating from surgery to lengthen her Achilles tendons, so she didn't have to walk anymore on her tippy-toes.

This procedure involved an operation at Children's Hospital Surgical Center in Wexford, which called for Z-shaped incisions in both ankles.

She was immobile for a week in casts up to her knees.

Then she couldn't walk for six weeks, said her mom.

Now Margo is waiting for lower-leg braces, made after molds were taken of her feet, which eventually will help form an arch.

“Margo never complained once,” said Brooke Warnken about the procedures and continual twice-weekly physical therapy sessions. “She's done really well.”

Margo would rather talk about Operation M.A.S.K. Margo said she thought about how much she receives on her birthday in December and wants to give to those who have less.

Pollak said the project was approved by Stanwood Principal Raymond Burk last week. It involves collecting new and slightly used clothing, shoes and toys for distribution for families who need assistance.

“And all the third-graders will be making masks — about 100 kids — that will be packaged with the donations to be delivered on Halloween,” Margo said.

So far, the pitch requesting donations has been delivered to local managers of Walmart, Sam's Club and Target, Pollak said.

“This is a good experience for Margo, talking to these really important business people. I have a terrific class — the best ever — and Margo is a remarkable, remarkable girl,” she said.

“We will be collecting in front of the school during the day” from Oct. 21 through Oct. 26, Pollak said.

Parents and other volunteers will be sorting the clothing on Oct. 29.

The Warnken family said they are still working out where the donated clothing and toys will be distributed.

“We're hoping other elementary schools get involved,” Brooke Warnken said. “We're also talking to St. Mark's Lutheran Church.”

Margo is the oldest of three children.

Her sister, Payton, 7, and her brother, Gavin, 6, are helping with the project.

“Initially, Margo was researching third-world countries on the Internet to help on a larger scale,” said her father, Nic Warnken. “We had to talk her into keeping Operation M.A.S.K. local.”

Rose Domenick is a freelance writer.



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