DECATUR — Jessie Edwards, a 20-year-old aspiring social worker, was looking for a project to fulfill a college class requirement.
Edwards, who is known for her unusually big heart, decided to take on a project in line with her reputation.
She discovered that there are 26 grade schools in Macon County, and many of their pupils do not have gloves.
So why not make sure all the children have their fingers covered this winter?
"I have a big passion for children in the first place," said Edwards, a junior at University of Illinois-Springfield. "My dream is to help children in the community."
Edwards looked over the charity landscape and discovered a gaping hole.
"There’s a coat drive, a food drive, but I never heard of a glove drive," said Edwards, during an interview at Dennis School, where she kicked off her marathon giveaway in early December on one of the first really cold days of the season. "If I can at least keep their hands warm, that’s a start. If they don’t have gloves, their fingers get cold first."
With financial support from the Macon County Sheriff’s Office’s community outreach program, Edwards purchased 1,000 pairs of gloves from Dollar General. She bought 26 Christmas-themed bags, and placed about 40 pairs in each bag.
She chose Dennis as her first stop, because her older sister, Chelsea Janvrin, teaches 5th grade there. When the 5th-graders were asked how many of them needed gloves, 10 hands shot up.
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When she met with the first batch of children, Edwards stooped down and asked each one to select his own pair.
A 6-year-old girl, who selected a teal pair adorned with pictures of owls, said she shared a pair of gloves with her sister last year. Two boys, 7 and 9 years old, each said they didn’t have any gloves this year or last.
"She’s nice," both boys said when asked what they thought of the lady who just gave them free gloves.
Janvrin agreed with the children’s assessment of her sister.
"Jessie is the sweetest person you’ll ever meet in your life, the most giving person," she said.
Their mother, who accompanied her on some of her rounds, also spoke in superlatives about Jessie, the second born of her four daughters.
"She’s got the biggest, greatest heart of anyone I’ve ever met in my life," Marlene Hilderbrand said, adding that she is not saying that because she’s her daughter. "She’s always had a passion to help, especially for kids."
Edwards, who plastered signs with the name of her project, "Warm Hands for Young Hearts," on her car, is planning to keep it going.
"I want to do more next year," Edwards said. "I want to include scarves and hats."