Once a pushcart gets rolling, you never know where it is going to stop. That may be the essential lesson of the Reed Intermediate School’s Pushcart Day. The end-of-the-school-year event has raised thousands of dollars over the years for causes ranging from autism research to the Women’s Center in Danbury. In the past two years, however, the impact of this annual fundraising effort has been amplified and redirected to children in West Africa where their charitable giving is not just lending a helping hand but transforming lives.
This is a story about causes and effects — the extraordinary effects of a daisy chain of inspiration that started with Pushcart Day in 2013. The event itself is inspired by the children’s novel The Pushcart Wars about a clash in the streets of New York between pushcart vendors and truckers. The nickels, dimes, and quarters raised by competing student pushcarts at the Reed School added up to an impressive total of $2,800 in 2013. The search for a suitable recipient for the proceeds then drew inspiration from a group of students at Kamiak High School in Mukilteo, Wash., who themselves had been inspired by the stories that flowed out of Newtown in the wake of the 12/14 tragedy in Sandy Hook. The Kamiak students had raised enough money to build a water well for a Liberian community without access to clean water through the auspices of the Well Done Organization. They dedicated the well to the memory of those who died at Sandy Hook School. The Reed School pushcart vendors decided to finance their own water well in Liberia.
With the help Karen King, a Reed teacher who had visited the West African community that got the Kamiak High School well, the pushcart donors found the New Life Christian Academy near Monrovia, Liberia. The school conducted classes in a rudimentary structure made of straw, mud, and sticks constructed by a community desperate to give their children an education that might help them out of the cycle of disadvantage fed by a long history of civil war and poverty. On the very long list of things the New Life school did not have was access to clean water. The Reed School pushcarts pushed that particular need off the list in 2013.
This chapter of the story caught the attention of the Scholastic Publishing Company, which was in turn inspired to donate up to 1,000 books to New Life. The only problem was that the books needed to be kept in a dry place — another thing on New Life’s list of needs. The irrepressible pushcart vendors at Reed wanted to keep things rolling. They hoped, somehow, to come up with a way to provide that dry space in the form of a new school building — a daunting challenge that would require them to raise $25,000 and increase their fundraising nearly tenfold. It looked like it might be long-term dream. Just days before Pushcart Day this year, however, an anonymous “West Coast couple” was inspired by the determination of the Reed school kids and gave them a more plausible challenge: Raise $3,000 on Pushcart Day, and the couple would contribute the remaining $22,000. The Reed pushcarts raised $5,500 this year — a record.
A new school building is under construction in Liberia, this summer. It must seem miraculous to the 300 students at New Life and their families. Life changing. Inspiring to each of them. Who knows when this particular pushcart will stop rolling?