MICHAEL JOHNSON/Livingston County News
St. Agnes School Principal Gerald Benjamin (right) kisses Gloria the pig, a micro-mini from the Garden Factory in Clyde held by Debbie Johnson.
St. Agnes School
Dr. Ben kisses a pig for school fundraiser
For the fifth consecutive year, the students at St. Agnes School in Avon, through the Heifer International organization, have raised money to purchase livestock for needy families in a poverty-stricken nation.
This year enough money was raised to purchase four-to-five water buffalo which will be sent to Thailand, where the buffalo haul, plow and provide milk.
“It started years ago, brainstorming with the children about how we might reach out and help others,” explained St. Agnes Principal Dr. Gerald Benjamin.
The Heifer International programs offers livestock to the needy people around the world, and, as Dr. Ben suggests, simultaneously offers these same people dignity and hope in the form of economic sustainability.
“I like to think of it as bringing the triumph of the human spirit to others who are struggling,” Dr. Ben said.
During each of the last five years at St. Agnes, a type of animal, destination and fundraising target have been decided upon.
As for the fundraising, “the children have always exceeded my wildest dreams,” Dr. Ben vouched.
He has on several occasions heard a student comment, ‘There are children who need something more than I do.’
“It’s the children’s choice to give — and that’s the whole premise of what this is,” Dr. Ben explained.
When the children were polled for the 2011 program, they chanted “Heifer, Heifer!” leaving no doubt that the livestock donation should continue for another year — and this time the suggestion seemed formidable: the purchase of a literal heifer, the most expensive of choices at $500 per animal.
But the students making the suggestion noted, if everyone in grades pre-K-to-6 brought in $10, the target could be easily achieved.
By the conclusion of the 2011 year, students had raised a remarkable $1,500.
“We were able to buy an ark of animals with that,” Dr. Ben reported, “and send them all around the world.”
Lamas went to Peru, heifers to Cameroon, and other livestock to China, the East Indies, Japan and Poland.
“The little arms of these children are really stretching across the world,” Dr. Ben said.
In celebration of the generosity of the students and success of the fundraising, Dr. Ben maintains what has become an annual tradition at the school: He kisses an animal.
In December of 2011 it was a two-day-old heifer, brought to the school courtesy of Coyne Farms.
Culminating the ceremony, the six graders got to dye Dr. Ben’s hair. They selected a combined blue-green-red scheme.
The 2012 water buffalo program was nearly as successful. $250 was targeted and almost $1,200 raised, enough to purchase a small herd of water buffalo.
For the December 2012, encore, Dr. Ben volunteered to kiss a pig, a water buffalo being unavailable.
He personally located a suitable pot-bellied specimen, the runt of a litter, while Christmas shopping at The Garden Factory in Clyde where a petting zoo including pigs was featured, sponsored by an animal rescue service.
Just before Christmas vacation 2012, Dr. Ben kept his word, kissing the young pig which had been brought to St. Agnes by The Garden Factory proprietor.
And the sixth graders choose green, purple and gold for Dr. Ben’s hair.
Over the years, other creatures receiving the ceremonial December kiss from Dr. Ben have included a horse, a goat and sheep, while the program has shipped heifers, sheep, goats, lamas, water buffalo, and even chickens and geese.
“It’s a gift of life, really,” Dr. Ben said.