LEROY — It was a given. People had concerns. Others heard. People had ideas. Others listened. People had time. Were willing to give it. And the cries of the children so in pain and those who heard them and felt their pain, questioned. Listened. And wanted to help.

One child asked why it was that people “up north” don’t like black people. Tiyi Schippers, who describes herself as a “circuit riding music teacher who travels to three elementary schools in the Pine River School District, Tustin, LeRoy and Luther, remembers that moment well.

She looked into the eyes of the child, “and I said, ‘why, what do you mean?’” And the child told her that other schools were closed because of Martin Luther King Day, “but not us.” That child knew why the day was special. Tiyi said, “but why wasn’t it here. Why not north of Big Rapids?”

“I guess we don’t like black people here,” the child said again and Tiyi said that just wasn’t true. She delivered the question to a school board meeting. She challenged the board and the teachers union to help find a way to honor that day. She felt strongly, she said, that there should not be such a question in the heart of a child, and now she shared it in hers as well.

And so did they. A suggestion was made that perhaps it could be turned into a day of service, an outreach to those in need, finding ways to help someone else. The question became, “What can we do for others?” One child wrote on a poster that on that day if there was no school, they would help mom fold laundry. Another child wrote, “Fix lunch for my family.”

The posters became commitments, and inspiration, and remarkable answer to a child’s innocent question.

And so it was that on this year’s Martin Luther King Day, more than a hundred people including Pine River’s school superintendent, Jim Ganger and his wife, principal Willie Holmes, many teachers and dozens and dozens of students, their parents, and community friends gathered in the library there at the high school and took on a project they will never forget.

It came as a thought, and blossomed into a mission. Meredith Mattzela, a junior at PRHS, attended a girls camp at Traverse City, a participant through her church in Cadillac, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The youngsters tie-dyed 300 pillowcases, then made them into dresses.

Those dresses were sent on to Haiti to clothe the children.

Why couldn’t a similar project be done on Martin Luther King Day right there at Pine River High School?

It certainly could be, and was.

The call went out to try to collect 1,000 pillowcases, ribbon and plenty of people to help turn them into 1,000 dresses in honor of the message of Martin Luther King Day, then donate them to the children of Haiti.

Between October and the first week of December, 1,000 pillowcases had been donated, and more were still coming in.

The junior class had a hat day, and all the ribbon for the dresses came from the hat day funds.

The signup to help on MLK Day filled up quickly, and the hours stretched from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., with men, women and children measuring, cutting, stitching them up, adding ribbon and trims, folding them and packing them.

For Meredith and her mom, Nancy, it was tear time at times. It was Nancy who had first gone with a friend to visit Kelby Klassen some time back at his home, and he asked them to excuse all the pillowcases in his living room. It was then the idea for that church camp project grew into a reality.

And now, for Kelby Klassen, an Osceola County EMS paramedic where Nancy also works, this MLK Day event was an opportunity to watch a miracle take place.

It’s not the first time for Klassen. You see, he and a friend from Tawas City have been coordinating the pillowcases to dresses project for the kids in Haiti since he went there Kelby went there the first time and saw a need. In 2008, he took that friend with him, and Jon Obermeyer was convinced.

Now, not even a full four years later, a quarter of a million pillowcases turned into dresses have been taken there and given to the children.

The two men have organized sewing groups ranging in size from one person to as many as 150. A lady in Midland makes two, three or four a day, and has already created 2,650 dresses herself.

These are working people, retirees, and many others in Osceola County who heard a little boy’s question and answered it mightily. People up north here? They do, indeed, care.

Ask Eugene Sturdavant, a 17-year-old junior at Pine River High School.

“Yes, I do.”

Why are you here? “Well, because I didn’t bring in that many pillowcases, so wanted to come and help.”

Help? He was part of the ironing brigade. Had he ironed before? “Never.”

When he heard the quick comment, “You’ll make somebody a good husband some day,” he laughed and said, he’d been told that several times already that morning. “And I kinda like hearing it.”

Every person had a reason for being there. Not just taking the day off school to stay home and goof off, but to be there and volunteer to help someone at that home or in their community, and show others in real life the answer to the question the little child asked. Yes, they surely do care.