By JUDY SHERARD
Lincoln Elementary School student council members were on a shopping mission Friday at Walmart SuperCenter in Hays.
The students filled three shopping carts with bears, dogs, ponies, penguins and even a caterpillar -- stuffed, of course -- to donate to Ana's Gift.
Ana's Gift is in memory of Ana Hertel, a 17-year-old junior at Hays High School, who died unexpectedly in 2010.
She had multiple pterygium syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that affected her muscles and joints.
Hertel spent so much time in hospitals, she took comfort in stuffed animals.
Shortly before she died, she started the project to raise money to buy stuffed animals to donate to hospitals, emergency management services, Hays Police Department and the Ellis County Sheriff's Department.
Hertel's mother, Lori Hertel, related her daughter's story to the StuCo members last month and asked for their help.
Having Hertel tell her daughter's story "meant more than just seeing a picture," student council adviser Eva Junk said.
"Our students were very touched by Ana's story and are excited about raising funds to buy stuffed animals," Lincoln Principal Elaine Rohleder wrote in an email.
The group raised more than $600 for the project by selling small items to fellow students, Junk said.
The students bought something, but they're giving back, too, she said.
"We had some kids buy stuffed animals," for the project, Junk said.
Junk and Rohleder accompanied the 15 students to Walmart to shop.
Reyrey Garibay was happy to be part of the shopping trip.
"I really want to help the little kids," he said.
Each student got a chance to select one or two favorite stuffed animals to put in the shopping cart, then showed their friends what they had selected.
Kaden Butel said she chose an owl since it might be some kids' favorite animal, and a princess bear because "some girls like princesses."
She wanted something "cuddly and warm," she said.
Besides being a lesson in giving, it was a math lesson as the students counted how many items of each price they had in the baskets and helped Rohleder keep a running total.
They bought a total of 39 stuffed animals for approximately $310.
A few more stuffed animals will be purchased at other stores, and any money left will be donated to Ana's Gift, Junk said.
After shopping, the children stopped at Dairy Queen for treats, Rohleder said.
They will present the animals to Hertel later this week.
"Kids, when asked to help, they really step up," Junk said.