By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — If students at four Ken-Ton elementary schools arrive home this week with bright purple fingers, they haven’t been playing in the art supplies, or eating grape ice pops.
They’re been helping fight polio.
Rebecca Gourlay, a senior at Kenmore West High School, said the annual Purple Pinkie Project in the district has added three new schools this year — Lindbergh, Hamilton and Edison elementary, who join Roosevelt Elementary School in the campaign.
The project raises money for distribution of the polio vaccine in countries where the disease is still on the rise, by letting children who donate $1 paint their fingers purple in solidarity with children in those countries, where those who have been vaccinated get a purple mark on their little fingers.
“It’s really a fun event in general,” Gourlay said. “The elementary kids get really excited about getting their pinkies painted, and it really is a good cause. It’s been really, really successful.”
In the past, the event has been coordinated by the Both Your Hands club at Ken-West. This year, members of the now-defunct club has meshed with the school’s Challenge Club to keep it going.
“The club kind of dissolved last year because there weren’t enough members and no teacher to take it over,” Gourlay said. “We organized this so we could keep it going. Even though the club doesn’t exist anymore, we still wanted to do it.”
The project raised $550 last year at Roosevelt Elementary School alone, she said, so the group hopes to at least triple the take this year. Ken-West students visited Lindbergh and Hamilton schools for the project Thursday and Edison and Roosevelt schools today.
Larry Coon, president of the Kenmore Rotary Club, said the club has been working with the district for about seven or eight years on the project, and lauded Ken-Ton for its “fantastic” support.
“Some of the high school club volunteers, they contributed $1 to have their fingers painted when they were in elementary school, so it’s kind of come full circle,” he said. “They do a great job. They’re so motivated to try to help kids around the world, but they’re not that familiar with polio until they come across this project.”
Rotary has been involved in the polio eradication effort since 1985, Coon said, and has donated more than $500 million toward the fight.
Only three countries — Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan — still have new cases, he said, and Rotary’s efforts have prevented at least 1 million childhood deaths and kept at least 5 million children from being paralyzed.
“We’ve put a huge dent in it,” he said. “New cases a year are down to less then 200, so we’re really, really close to eradicating it. And Rotary is one of the biggest partners of the organizations that are trying to make it happen.”