By Sarah Neubecker

Special to the Osceola Edition

LEROY — On a day set aside to celebrate an American hero, Pine River students and community members became heroes themselves.

Over 50 people gathered Monday in the Pine River High School/Middle School library to make dresses from pillowcases for girls in Haiti.

The idea for the Martin Luther King Jr. day project came after Pine River junior Meredith Mattzela organized a similar project with her church and wanted to repeat the event on a larger scale.

“I thought if the whole school could do it, I know (we) could do a lot,” Mattzela said.

Volunteers came as early as 5:15 a.m. and worked at tables and sewing machines, where they cut, ironed, sewed, and tied ribbons to make each dress, finishing about 40 dresses per hour.

The district began collecting pillowcases at the end of October, and had more than 1,000 by the beginning of December.

“We are taking a day off that normally would be leisure for students and staff and coming in and working in together for a cause,” Cosgrove said.

Kelby Klassen, representative of Haiti Care Mission, an organization that began in 2008 and has shipped 250,000 dresses to Haiti said it was exciting to see the community get involved to help girls in Haiti.

Klassen takes frequent trips to Haiti, and said many children in Haiti walk the streets without any clothing, and each pillowcase dress means a lot.

“It makes a big difference to them,” Klassen said.

One young girl in Haiti uttered the first two words she had ever spoken to the organization workers after she received a pillowcase dress.

“She said, ‘thank you,’” Klassen said.

The pillowcases that were not sewn at the end of the day Monday were outsourced to local churches to finish.

The service project was part of the MLK day of service at Pine River Schools after the school board voted to have no school on the holiday.

“It’s not just a day off,” said Pine River Area Schools Superintendent Jim Ganger.

This is the first year the district has voted to take the day off school, and students were encouraged to participate in some sort of service project.

“If we can change the mindset that when we have these holidays, that doesn’t always mean we have to just sit back and take it easy, but we should find a cause or a need that we can get out and help,” Cosgrove said.

Students and staff agree that spending the holiday serving others was a great way to honor the sacrifices made by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Giving back and helping is the best way to spend my day,” Mattzela said.

The district plans to continue offering service opportunities on MLK day each year.