Three fourth-graders at Whittier Elementary School in Brainerd didn't think twice about helping James Elliott, a classmate who lost his house to fire.
Kelley Bevans, Megan Wagner and Kayla Kephart rode their bicycles to neighborhoods around the school in north Brainerd to raise money for the family. They biked five to six days and raised $100 for the family. Classmates Gina Lindgren and Rylie Fussy also helped with the bike-a-thon.
"My church is also making a quilt for the family," said Wagner. "I am very proud to do this (for the family). I hope people look at us as role models and do the same thing."
Elliott's parents are Jennifer and Bruce Lehrke of Brainerd, and he has three siblings.
"They are so thoughtful," said Jennifer Lehrke. "I couldn't believe it. I am extremely grateful. This teaches you a lot about people."
James said he is thankful to his classmates and is proud of them.
The fire occurred at 5:36 a.m. Sunday, March 18. No one was at the home in Crow Wing Township at the time of the fire, which caused $150,000 in damage.
The fire started in the chimney and engulfed the attic, burning the ceiling and then down into the basement.
A neighbor, Rob Reed, saw the fire and called 911. Jennifer Lehrke said he went into the burning house to turn the gas off so the house wouldn't explode and cause other homes to catch fire.
Jennifer Lehrke was at the home alone earlier Sunday morning before the fire started. At 3 a.m., she felt sick and went to the emergency room at St. Joseph's Medical Center.
"I shouldn't be here," she said. "God works in mysterious ways."
The Lehrkes are currently living in a hotel and plan to find a rental home. This spring they want to build a home.
Several other classmates were involved in helping the family. Sarah Frisch brought James a box of toys, books and games. Ashley Borchardt, Sean Collett and Jacquelynn and Jayme Doucette were collecting donations for the family until today.
Three families at Whittier have lost their homes to fires this year. Second-grader Corey Heinlen, the son of Marty Johnston, and fifth-grader Jack Fariss, the son of Kim Fariss, also lost their homes.
Pat Altrichter, principal at Whittier, said students and staff members have donated nearly $1,300 to help the three families.
"Some people who didn't even know James were so very willing to help out," said Altrichter.
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