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Displaying “Purple Pinkie Project” cards and costumes representing some of the countries where polio-fighting programs have been implemented, Huntersville Elementary School students, joined by fifth grade teacher Erin Lyons and members of the Huntersville Happy Hour Rotary Club, celebrate a combined contribution to help finance global immunization efforts.

HUNTERSVILLE – As a result of a school-wide pre-Thanksgiving campaign powered by students at Huntersville Elementary School, up to 2,000 children in isolated parts of the world will receive immunizations against polio.

Partnering with the Huntersville Happy Hour Rotary Club – following the club’s late October presentation at the school about “Purple Pinkie Day” and Rotary International’s leading role in a global initiative to eradicate polio – HES students united to donate dollars, dimes and all the coins they could gather to support the project.

“It was a little bit of everything,” said HES fifth grade teacher Erin Lyons, who helped coordinate the school project. “Whatever change the kids had, in every grade, they dropped it in.”

The multi-week effort resulted in approximately $225 in donations to help the Rotary-sponsored End Polio Now campaign. As promised, Happy Hour Club Rotarians matched the school’s contribution. And through a 2-to-1 pledge of support for the program from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the cash HES students collected will end up providing a $1,500 boost for the long-running, polio-fighting cause.

At ceremonies celebrating the contribution, Happy Hour Club President Mike Fitzgerald, accompanied by fellow club members Ineke Wilson, Eileen Solomon and Mark Kincer, referenced the club’s earlier presentation and asked students if they remembered the cost of an individual immunization. Several students gave the correct answer: 75 cents.

“So,” Fitzgerald continued, “does anyone know how many immunizations this donation will provide?”

The adults tried some quick calculations, but the fifth graders representing the student body at the ceremonies beat them to it. “2,000,” several shouted.

Finish in sight for 30-year fight

In 1979, Rotarians worked with the Philippine Ministry of Health to provide polio immunizations to that country’s children. Six years later, backed by Rotarians, a worldwide effort to combat the disease – a contagious viral illness that causes nerve damage and can lead to paralysis, breathing problems and death – began.

In 1994, polio was eliminated from the United States. In 2002, it was eliminated from Europe. Since the effort began, global polio cases have been reduced by 99.9 percent. Immunizations all over the world – where children get a purple stamp on their finger indicating they have been treated (the basis for the “purple pinkie” theme) – has removed the threat of polio from nearly every country. Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan are the remaining targeted countries.

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