Kids hold drive in honor of 2 classmates

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A Monmouth, Illinois school teacher is leading the way, bringing a small town together to make big difference in the lives of two of her students diagnosed with leukemia.  

Now, several surrounding communities are involved in the project, aimed at helping kids everywhere with every type of cancer.

Buckets and bins full of pop tops have been collected since the first of the year by Melinda Fry's second graders at Harding Primary School.

It's their way of honoring not one, but two of their classmates stricken with the disease.

"You just see the hard things they go through and they're so little,” said Fry, who spearheaded the drive.

Guadalupe Garcia, 8, was diagnosed with the disease in October.

She's in treatment right now in Peoria.

"She's my best friend," said Ayanna Arteaga, who knows a lot about what her best friend is going through. "Sometimes we talk to her on Skype and she's really sick."

Arteaga is in remission herself after three months of treatment at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

Feeling good and back in class, Ayannas’ is a success story, where there was, at one time, little hope.

"It's been great to see her come around and have energy and want to run around and play with her friends," said Fry.

"I'm glad Ayanna's done too and she's back with us and I hope Guadalupe will get to come here and we'll get to see her sometime," said Jay Lee Hasten, a classmate.

Until then, Fry's students and the Monmouth community will collect pop tops to help kids with cancer.

The outreach has helped Ayanna's family tremendously throughout their ordeal.

"The whole community got together and did fundraising," said Lafayette Randolph, Ayanna’s father.

 The students get something out of it, too.

"Feels good to know you're helping," said Bryson McClendon, another classmate.

"I think it's a really good time to help people, whatever age you are,” said Hasten. “It's really a good thing."

Fry says she’s found a Galesburg recycling facility that will take in pop tops for 60 cents a pound.

Fry's class will turn them in there on Monday, May 21.

They hope to raise more than $600, which will be donated to the Ronald McDonald House in Memphis, which houses St. Jude patients at no cost to their families.

That's where Ayanna stayed when she was there going through treatment.

The Monmouth Evening Lion's Club is also credited with spreading the word throughout the community about the project.

They initially donated 200 pounds of pop tops when they heard about the two girls and now neighboring communities have also donated.