ADAMS — When C.T. Plunkett Elementary School third-grader Nora Moser was given $5 from her teacher earlier this month and instructed to use it to help people, Moser became an entrepreneurial philanthropist overnight.
The girl went home and told her mother about what her teacher, Ann Prudhomme, called "The Pay It Forward Project." Moser had the idea to make "cocoa cups," festive cups decorated with holiday themes, filled with hot cocoa mix and a candy cane garnish purchased with the $5 Prudhomme had given her.
The girl had her mother create a post about the project and the cups, which she marketed for $2 each, Moser was able to make and sell enough cups and garner additional donations to raise $325. The proceeds were then doled out to PopCares, a local organization that supports cancer patients, and to the Berkshire Humane Society; used to purchase food for a local canned food drive and toys and clothes for another local girl in need.
Similarly, another student, Joseph "JoJo" Campbell used his money to make cookies for residents of the Louison House which supports people who are homeless.
Through the personal investment of $5 to her other 20 students, Prudhomme and her class were able to support around a dozen other charitable projects and organizations in the Berkshires, from the Friendship Center food pantry to the Salvation Army.
"I never dreamed when we started this project that we'd have such amazing results," the teacher said.
Leading up to the project, Prudhomme said the class read stories of goodwill, like Karen Chinn's "Sam and the Lucky Money," and talked about how kids, despite their age, can take on leadership roles to help others.
"Never let anyone make you feel like you can't make a difference," Prudhomme told her students.
Despite being stumped at first about how to raise more funds or make a simple donation — "It was hard to choose," said Moser — the third-graders resoundingly agreed that their teacher picked an interesting project for them to do.
"I liked it because you could give people a second chance to do what everybody else does, or have what others have," said student Emilee Levesque.
"It feels good knowing that you helped somebody or something," said Brent Damone, who along with several other classmates, gave to the Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter in Pittsfield.
THE PAY IT FORWARD PROJECT WAS INSPIRED BY SIMILAR PROJECTS AT SCHOOLS IN THE BERKSHIRES. THE CRANEVILLE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL "GIVING PROJECT" HAS BEEN SEVERAL YEARS RUNNING IN DALTON, WHERE STUDENTS AND FAMILIES WORK TOGETHER TO GROW THE TEACHER'S INITIAL $5 INVESTMENT. TERESA BILLS, WHO NOW SPEARHEADS THE CRANEVILLE PROGRAM, SAID HER STUDENTS THIS YEAR TOOK HER INITIAL CLASS INVESTMENT OF $110, AND TURNED IT INTO $6,417 FOR DONATIONS.
Similarly, classes at Capeless and Allendale elementary schools in Pittsfield have in the past few years participated in their own versions of the Giving Project.
C.T. Plunkett Elementary Principal Michelle Colvin said the projects exemplify "the kind of heart" that exists in her school and neighboring schools.
Prudhomme's third-graders said they learned a few different things from the project, like what organizations in the area depend on donations, to the fact, as one child noted, "there is not a lot of food that only costs $5."
Said Levesque, "I think it's a good project for kids because maybe they want to help others too."