By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
STEVENSVILLE — Last month, Cassie King was given an opportunity to help herself. She instead thought of her students.
King, a first grade teacher at Roosevelt Elementary in Stevensville, was the winner of a $500 Holiday Shopping Spree at Meijer.
Instead of spending the money on herself, King chose to spend the money on coats, snow pants, boots, gloves, hats and other outdoor gear for students at her school.
“I’m a teacher and we see kids everyday with frozen hands and numb ears,” King said. “Their families just can’t afford it. I hate to see kids not being able to play outside in the snow because they don’t have the clothes for it. When the radio contest chose me among their 10 people, I thought it would be an easy way to get them what they needed.”
97.5 Y-Country, a radio station that helped create the shopping spree, and Honor Credit Union, which was providing the cash for the contest, learned of her intentions before the contest and decided to add a new wrinkle to the equation.
The way the contest works is simple. Ten contestants are asked to meet at Meijer, where they do a reverse drawing. After the first name is selected and eliminated, the contestant chosen picks the next name from the drawing until there is only one person left who is declared the winner.
Because the contest organizers had no way of knowing King would win, they decided to give her $500 to spend regardless.
However, when she was the last name chosen Dec. 16, Honor Credit Union doubled King’s prize money to $1,000.
Matt Ascolese, branch manager of Honor Credit Union’s Stevensville office, said HCU has been holding the annual shopping spree at Meijer because it’s the largest store in the area.
In the six years HCU has done the contest, it was the first time they gave away more than the regular $500.
“Her story was so inspirational to the radio station that 97.5 reached out to us to see if there was anything we could do,” Ascolese said. “We decided whether she won or not she was going to get $500. The fact that she won was icing on the cake.”
King had 9 minutes and 75 seconds to gather as many items as she could for the contest inside Meijer, while other shoppers were busy navigating the store.
She ended up collecting 12 coats, 11 pairs of boots, 30 sets of gloves, about 40 hats and a few gifts for other students.
Matt Malone of 97.5 came to the school on the Friday after the competition to drop off the purchased items and King began passing them out the following Monday.
On cloud nine
After passing them out, King learned they had enough for next year’s kids that would come to Roosevelt.
The best reaction King received while handing out winter clothing came from a first grade girl. After being handed an item, the girl said it was “the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“I was on cloud nine for about 10 days. The shopping was fun, but getting to see their faces was even better,” King said. “Generally, a lot of kids get hand-me-down clothes. But for them to get something with the tag still on was great to see.”
King also bought a few items for the remaining kids on the school’s giving tree.
Every year, King said the staff puts stars on the giving tree with gift ideas for the students whose families can’t buy them presents. There are normally about 50 kids on the tree, but the tree affects close to 20 families each year when it accounts for the students’ siblings as well.
Most years those stars go really fast, but King noticed there were a few left and decided to finish it off during the shopping spree.
Ascolese, who approved the additional $500, has a wife who teaches at the same elementary school with King. Ascolese said he knows the kind of struggle teachers and their schools go through.
“If there is a message to be relayed it’s that the schools struggle,” he said. “Sometimes the funding’s not there. If there’s anything people can do, whether it’s dropping off pencils or notepads, it will be appreciated.”
(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Jan. 12, 2017)