SCIO, Ore. (AP) — Christmas has come and gone here, but it will arrive in a few weeks for 460 schoolchildren in Buedu, Sierra Leone, Africa.
And Santa Claus is going to arrive by jumbo jet in the form of Rheanna McDaniel, a blond, blue-eyed 11-year-old, supported unselfishly by this mid-valley community of 800.
Rheanna learned a year ago from family friend Fiona Kiker that the children needed uniforms so their school could be recognized by the African nation's government and receive financial assistance. Kiker assists the Andando Foundation, which supports the school and other humanitarian projects in Africa.
"I threw myself on the couch and said I wanted to do it," the Scio Middle School sixth-grader said.
It wasn't an unrealistic goal. In the fourth grade Rheanna and her mother, Terise, sewed 50 pillow case dresses for children in Haiti. Unlike those dresses, which were all one size, the Buedu school needs different sizes to fit the multi-aged students.
"So, we used standard, queen- and king-sized pillow cases," Rheanna said.
The family planned to make and pay for 260 dresses. But when community members heard about the village's need, support mushroomed.
Pastor Mike Sprague and members of the Scio Baptist Church provided cash donations, and 260 dark blue cotton pillow cases showed up on the family's doorstep. Another woman donated 40 yards of dark blue material that is being made into shorts for 200 boys who attend the school.
Scio High School's home economics students sewed 80 dresses. Rheanna and her mom often made two dresses at a time and hosted sewing days, when a dozen or so young seamstresses would take over the family's game room and work assembly-line style.
Her dad, Warren, has also been a strong supporter and his shop has often been filled to the rafters with cans and bottles donated by the community.
Rheanna — who learned to sew at age 5 — made small handbags, filled them with candy and sold them for $5 each at area fairs to get seed money for the project, estimated to cost about $10,000. She also sent letters to family and friends asking for donations.
The family ran the concession stand at a recent mat club wrestling tournament and raised $860. That same day, Denny Mask of Pipefitters Local 290 presented her with a check for $500.
"The kids at the high school held a penny drive and collected $600," Terise said. "I've never heard of that much money being collected before."
In addition to the dresses, the project has grown to include yellow undershirts for the girls and dark blue polo shirts and shorts for the 200 boys at the school. Some of the boys' shirts and shorts are being purchased as time is running short, Terise said.
Rheanna and Terise are going to Sierra Leone to visit the school Jan. 21 to Feb. 1 and they've got another surprise for the students.
"We're going to use the $600 from the penny drive and $200 donated by the city of Scio to buy school supplies for the kids," Terise said. "I'm really looking forward to that."
Rheanna said she feels good about herself, but especially so about her community.
"It feels great that my small town is so willing to help other people in need," she said.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press