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From left, Myleba Antunes, Melissa Gamero and Pastor Chris Wadelton the money donated by students at Holy Cross Central School in Indianapolis. / Matt Kryger, The Indianapolis Star

INDIANAPOLIS -- A seventh-grade girl walked into Holy Cross Central School on Feb. 24 with tears in her eyes.

She was mourning the death of her friend and former classmate, one of the six people killed two days prior in an Indianapolis house fire.

The next day the girl walked into the office of Holy Cross Principal Ruth Tinsley with one question.

"What can we do to help?"

What followed, school officials said, was an act of selflessness, powered by the students of a small Roman Catholic school, that won't soon be matched.

"I was totally overwhelmed ? prouder than any mother could be of their children, and I have 225 children to be proud of here," Tinsley said. "It will warm my heart for years to come."

As of Tuesday afternoon, the students had collected $1,025 in donations for the Guerra family.

The Feb. 22 morning fire killed Lionel "Leo" Guerra, 47; Brandy Mae Guerra, 33; Miranda Guerra, 14; Esteban Guerra, 11; Blanquita Guerra, 8; and Fuentes Guerra, 6. All died of smoke inhalation.

Officials from the Indianapolis Fire Department said the fire was accidental but the cause remains "undetermined." Arson has been ruled out as a possibility.

Tinsley said that after the seventh-grade student asked what they could do to support the family, Tinsley asked Holy Cross Pastor Chris Wadelton if the offering from the school's Thursday morning Mass could go to the family instead of the church.

Wadelton agreed, and when the time for the offering came, nearly every student stood and dropped coins and bills into the collection basket.

"More than one child brought in, like, a Mason jar with change. You could tell they had been collecting it for a while," Wadelton said.

"The kids' eyes would kind of get big when they would come up and see how much money was in the basket, and they were all part of that."

The next day, the school gave students another opportunity to give. Once again, student participation exceeded officials' expectations.

"It wasn't just a dollar they brought in," Tinsley said. "They brought in twenties and fives and tens. They said to me, 'We want them to have this. They need this.' By the end of the day, we had more than $800 in two days."

At that point, the fundraising effort had taken on a life of its own.

Tinsley said to make the parents aware of the fundraiser, a note was sent home with every child early last week explaining what was being called the "Students Helping Students" drive.

One student used that note to make a poster that she then hung in her apartment complex and at the restaurant that her father manages. That student returned to the school with $156 from her own personal campaign, Tinsley said.

Practically every Holy Cross student from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade made a contribution to the Guerra family, Tinsley said.

"It's remarkable ... 93 percent of my children live at or below the poverty level, but they stepped up to help strangers in need," she said. "It was simply amazing."



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Students donate to help family devastated by fire

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