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Messy room sparks idea for community project

Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Sisters Cheyenne and Cierra Burns kickstarted a holiday donation drive at Founders Hall that their mother Ethel Burns said will benefit Kiesell Soup Kitchen in McKeesport.

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By Tim Karan
Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, 12:51 a.m.
 

Founders' Hall eighth-grader Cheyenne Burns, 13, of White Oak said it was the night of parent-teacher conferences in early October when she literally stumbled upon a big idea in her messy bedroom.

“When I walked in my room that night, I knocked over a big pile of clothes that I had planned to donate to the Salvation Army,” she said. “But then I thought, ‘If I have this many clothes just laying around, how much do all the students from the entire school have?'”

It was the humble beginning of Cheyenne's Project Christmas — a McKeesport Area School District fundraiser and donation drive to benefit Kiesell Soup Kitchen in downtown McKeesport.

Cheyenne was so excited that night, her 12-year-old sister Cierra said, that neither of them got much sleep.

“She kept me up until like 2 a.m.,” said Cierra with a laugh. “She wouldn't stop talking about it.”

By morning, the pair had shared their plan with their mother, Ethel Burns, and the wheels were set in motion. Although Cheyenne originally intended only to collect clothes, Burns said her daughter's good will and ambition proved to be contagious.

“I thought it was a great idea, so I called (assistant principal) Anthony Popowitz and told him about it,” Burns said. “He said it was something the school would be interested in. Ever since then, we've been working with the district and contacting friends and family to try to get any type of donations we can get — whether it's cash, gently used toys or clothes, winter supplies or nonperishable goods.”

The fundraiser kicked off on Friday at Founders' Hall where students pitched in a dollar to stretch the district's strict dress code and wear jeans. Beginning on Tuesday and through Dec. 13, students and community members will be welcome to donate items at any district school to be distributed at two events in December at Kiesell Soup Kitchen.

“We're planning to have a children's party (at the kitchen along Fifth Avenue) on Dec. 20 and a dinner there for kids and adults on Dec. 22,” Burns said. “We're looking at probably about 500 children for the kids' party and 200 people for the dinner, so we need all we can get.”

School district spokeswoman Kristen Giran said although it's not uncommon for students to start fundraisers for their classes, it's rare to have one start such a large-scale initiative.

“We've had kids come up with building-level projects before,” Giran said. “But for a child to come to us and ask if they can do it district-wide is something to be admired.”

Still, Cheyenne isn't all that interested in garnering attention for herself.

“I just really want to try to help homeless people,” she said. “I want to give them a good Christmas.”

To donate money or items to Cheyenne's Project Christmas, take contribution to a McKeesport Area School District building before Dec. 13.

Tim Karan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1970, or tkaran@tribweb.com.

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