Monday morning, Nov. 9, was a happy time at Rocky Ridge Elementary School in Graham, as a group of excited third-graders waited in anticipation for a busload of gifts to arrive just for them and their classmates.
Assembled in front of their school with big smiles on their faces and holding “thank you” signs, the little ones cheered and waved the minute they saw the “Puyallup Tribe Giving Bus” round the corner and pull into the parking lot. Inside, the bus was packed with bikes, skateboards, coats, books, school supplies and more being delivered by a group from the Pierce County Sheriff’s office who were there as ambassadors for Charlie’s Dinosaur, an outreach program of Tacoma-Pierce County Crime Stoppers.
Before unloading the gifts, Pierce County Sheriff’s Detective Lynelle Anderson explained to the children that Charlie’s Dinosaur was started in honor of young Charlie and Braden Powell, whose lives were lost in 2012. She pointed out the green dinosaur painted on the bus, which is the logo for Charlie’s Dinosaur, and the special meaning it holds.
“He was drawn by Charlie and Braden, two special little boys who are no longer with us. In honor of them, we’ve formed a foundation that goes out and gives as much joy as they gave to the world too,” Anderson said. “We go out to schools and we help kids with all the stuff that lets you guys know how special you are because there’s nothing better than children and keeping kids happy. That’s why we’re here today – to make sure you have all the stuff you need and we are so excited to be here.”
Ed Troyer, executive director of Tacoma Pierce County Crime Stoppers, said the gifts would benefit the school throughout the year.
“Some kids may not have coats so we have coats for them. We have some kids who might need some school supplies so we have school supplies for them,” he said, noting that it wouldn’t be possible without fundraisers, corporate donations and consistent and generous support from the Puyallup Tribe.
“The Puyallup Tribe sponsors all these programs we do throughout the year. They’re big supporters of Toys for Tots and what we do.” He said the bus is a refurbished bus formerly used by the Emerald Queen Casino, completely made over inside and out, with racks and shelves lining the inside and room for up to eight people. “It goes to homeless events, schools…you name it and it can go.” The bus has over half a dozen upcoming trips to make as the holidays near.
It’s a huge community effort, Anderson said to the students. “It’s hundreds of people out in the community that are saying we want to help and we want to make every child have all the supplies and all the things necessary to keep you warm, happy and comforted.” It was a call from Dale Kelley of Dale Kelley Insurance in Graham, who is also a member of the Graham Business Association, that led to the Puyallup Tribe Giving Bus making the trek like Santa’s sleigh to Rocky Ridge Elementary.
"Mr. Kelley and Detective Troyer have been such great advocates for our kids at Rocky Ridge Elementary,” said principal Lindsey Marquardt. “We are so thankful for their partnership with Crime Stoppers, Charlie's Dinosaurs and The Puyallup Tribe. Their generosity impacts our students and community more than they know. At Rocky Ridge we talk about students Climbing to New Heights, I would like to thank all of the contributors for helping make the climb a little easier!"
Marquardt made sure the students gave thanks as well. When she counted to three, all the young students shouted a hearty “Thank you!” in unison to those who made the bus trip to their school. Marquardt said the larger items donated, such as the bicycles and skateboards, would be used as raffle prizes for school fundraisers later in the year.
“All the money we raise will go toward building our non-fiction text library,” she said.