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Paying Off

Area students wear crazy hats, collect food for good causes

MINOOKA — Aiden Rowe's hat looked like a cheeseburger.

Peter Perakis wore one that looked like a squid.

Jakob Hanson, 11, wore a giant foam cowboy hat with the Chicago Blackhawks' logo on the front.

It was all part of Minooka Intermediate School's Pay it Forward Week, in which students from Feb. 26 to March 1 collected basic supplies for troops overseas, raised money for a family on hard times and generally learned the importance of being a positive influence on others.

For the troops, each homeroom was assigned a different everyday item — which included nonperishable foods and toiletries — to collect all week. The result was a huge, neatly stacked mountain of supplies that will be donated to Operation Care Package in Joliet.

For the family of Mike Assaf, a math teacher at Minooka Community High School and wrestling coach at the middle school who passed away in January from cancer, teachers could pay a dollar to wear jeans to school and students could pay a dollar to wear a "crazy hat" on Thursday.

Hence the cheeseburger cap.

Rowe, 11, whose fifth-grade class collected deodorant, said choosing a hat was difficult.

"I have a lot of crazy hats at home," he said, forgoing his cow hat and cheese hat in favor of the burger.

To Rowe, though, the head wear was secondary to the reason behind it.

"It felt good to help people," he said. "It's an awesome feeling."

Perakis, 12, with squid tentacles flowing out from beneath the bill of his hat, expressed a similar sentiment.

"I liked making people feel better," he said.

For Lara Cogan, a social worker at the school, this is what made the week a success.

"I was thrilled by how many kids participated," Cogan said. "We had so many kids wear hats today. It's been awesome."

Cogan said the school has done programs to raise awareness about bullying. But the idea of Pay it Forward Week — the school's second this year — was to promote positive behavior rather than simply discouraging negative.

"[Pay it Forward] is not a replacement for our anti-bullying programs," she said. "But for this we chose to focus more on the positives."

It seems to be working.

The kids with crazy hats and teachers in jeans raised $673 for Assaf's family. And U.S. troops will receive the mountain of supplies that are piled in Cogan's office, as well as a cash donation raised during the school's Pay it Forward Week last October.

Sixth-grader Kyle Williamson, 12, the student council president, said he was happy about the amount of supplies his classmates had brought in.

"It's a scary amount of food," Williamson said, smiling as he stacked another box of oatmeal onto the wobbling tower of food.

"It's pretty amazing."

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