Despite poverty, Mendota schoolkids raise $25,000 for cancer patients

MENDOTA, Calif. (KFSN) -- A month ago, Mendota drew the kind of national attention no city wants.

But a group of elementary schoolkids continues to warm hearts in their community.

They're learning a little change can go a long way in changing perceptions.

The energy level was off the charts at Mendota Elementary.

The 770 kids here are always in a giving mood.

"When you go to a rally, you get all hyped and get excited and you want to do great things," said board member Lupe Flores.

And they do - despite having the odds stacked against them.

80% of the students here come from families living in poverty. Yet their school tops all other Fresno County schools in raising funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society "Pennies for Patients" campaign.

"Raising this money is something that inspires us and I feel that it motivates us to be givers," said Principal Juanita Villar.

In the Pennies for Patients drive, the kids learn that "change" can lead to change. Students collect coins at home and from neighbors.

"We have a big box and we send it to hospitals," said sixth-grader Jose Contreras.

Sixth grade teacher Ashleigh Kelly heads the effort in honor of a childhood friend she lost to cancer.

She says the kids may not have much but what they do have, they're willing to share.

Over the past four years, Mendota Elementary has raised $25,508 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Pennies for Patients campaign.

"I believe it shows you the heart of our students and our community. Despite socio-economics, they still persevere and, nevertheless, are able to gather this much funds," said vice-principal Jesus Zavala.

In February, USA Today ranked Mendota as the worst city to live in America, citing a high poverty and crime rate. The community has been fighting that label ever since.

"It's not fair for an outsider to come in and judge a community by hearsay," Zavala said.

These kids represent a snapshot of their community. They beg to differ as well but right now they're busy helping others.

"It's important because it will help our society keep going," said Contreras.

The Pennies for Patients drive lasts for three weeks at Mendota Elementary.
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