AURORA – Days after two of their classmates died in a car accident, Aurora Central Catholic High School students Natalie Droeske, Maria Arroyo, Andrea Bieritz and Alex Horton decided to do something proactive.
"That Thursday after the accident, being at school was just – there was a pall on our atmosphere," Droeske said, noting students were sent home early so they could grieve.
The 18-year-old senior and her friends gathered at Horton's house, where they decided to raise money for the families affected by the March 10 crash by selling T-shirts for $7, she said.
It soon became a project others were ready to support. Arch Printing in Aurora donated time and labor toward the effort, charging only for the actual shirts, Droeske said. She said Trader Joe's in Batavia didn't hesitate to provide bags.
"We asked for them and got them that day," she said.
Word about the fundraiser spread through social media, as Droeske said she used her personal Twitter account and the school newspaper's account – @ACCNewspaper – for promotion.
She asked those wanting to sell shirts to contact her. She expected feedback from Marmion Academy and Rosary High School, she said, but got responses from much more – about 16. The list includes both private and public schools throughout the Tri-Cities and in such places as Joliet and Marengo.
"The response was overwhelming," Droeske said, adding she ended up carrying her charger around for the next week because of the constant texts and Tweets she received.
By the first deadline, Droeske said, 2,056 shirts were ordered.
"I never thought it would be that high," she said.
Meanwhile, she said, the amount of money raised has been bolstered by donations exceeding the T-shirt price and is approaching $15,000.
While Droeske and her friends have spearheaded the project, the teen wrote in an email that their moms have helped just as much, and other friends – including those from other schools – have pitched in as well.
"This project would not have happened if it weren't for all of our friends [who've] supported us," Droeske wrote, describing it as a "true team effort."
Orders for the shirts will be accepted through the end of the school day Thursday, Droeske said. She said those not affiliated with ACC may visit the school office, 1255 N. Edgelawn Drive, Aurora, to place an order.
The shirts are white with a royal blue design that includes the date of the car accident, the first names of the students killed and the phrase #PRAY4ACC. Droeske said the proceeds will be split among the families of the two students who died and the family of the driver.