With a deep breath, he launched his usual introduction, “Hi! My name is Andrew and ...”
“Oh, wait!” exclaimed the woman at Pear Park Elementary School’s office, “I have to get more people to listen to this!”
Then she took off. A few beats later she was back, and 8-year-old Andrew Thomas was able to continue and present the smiling assembly with the multicultural crayons and markers he had brought.
Then many of the students asked for his autograph. No one had done that before, Andrew said.
As Andrew and his mother, Jana Thomas, have made delivery after delivery of Crayola multicultural crayons and markers to local elementary schools in recent weeks, they were never quite sure what they would encounter.
Students at New Emerson Elementary School gave him a superhero’s orange cape and an eye mask along with several kindness rocks. Principals at many schools knelt down to talk with Andrew face to face. Thomas took lots of pictures.
Out of everything that Andrew has done since August to raise $25,000 to buy the Crayola multicultural crayons and markers for local elementary schools, a project he named “Love One Another,” making deliveries has been the best part, he said.
“Everyone was so excited to use them,” he said of the crayons and markers.
There are already posts at his project’s Facebook page, Love One Another — GV, of children using the crayons to draw pictures of themselves and matching the crayons to their own skin tone.
That is the exact goal Andrew had in mind when he launched his ambitious project.
In July, when one of his sisters gave him sets of multicultural crayons, markers and colored pencils for his birthday, Andrew chose the color “sepia” when coloring his own skin tone. And when the racial issues, protests and riots in the news caught Andrew’s attention about that time, his family came up with the Love One Another project as a positive way for Andrew, who is Black, to approach the topic of race
His pitch line was, “every color belongs in the crayon box. Because everyone should color themselves just the way they are.” Then he would flash a brilliant smile.
Andrew had plenty of help with his project from his parents, Chris and Jana, and three older sisters, Kiaja, MiKealy and Brielle. And along the way Andrew’s project was met with incredible generosity from people inspired by his message and idea.
Instead of raising $25,000, he raised $27,450 through donations and the purchase of specially designed “Love One Another” T-shirts and stickers, Jana Thomas said.
She will never forget the woman who came to their front door with a $5,000 check to donate to Andrew’s project. The woman’s husband had died of cancer and she was herself a cancer survivor, Thomas said.
Her donation came from money she and her husband had saved so they could travel during retirement, Thomas said.
“That was huge,” Thomas said of the emotional and generous donation.
Support came from people all over the United States and Canada and from many local individuals and every bit of it made a difference, she said.
Becker’s School Supplies was part of that support, assisting in the purchase of many of the crayons and markers despite the difficulties of the pandemic, she said.
The project did hit a hitch when a pallet of 9,000 crayons was “lost” in shipping, she said.
Fortunately, it was found after a couple weeks and delivered, joining the pallets of markers in the Thomases’ garage for the holidays.
Andrew and his family spent a lot of time over the holidays sorting and boxing up crayons and markers so Andrew could begin his deliveries when schools were back in session after winter break.
Now, with deliveries nearly done — a few more local schools have reached out to Andrew requesting the multicultural crayons and markers — Andrew is ready to get back to regular life.
The regular life of an 8-year-old kid.
But his project has changed even him in some ways. He admits that he’s not as shy as he used to be.
He even mustered the courage to say a few words at the community Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration on Monday, Jan. 18, where he was given the Making A Difference Award for his Love One Another project as well as a $500 college scholarship.
He was really nervous, and he didn’t realize how many people were going to be at the celebration.
“I thought there was only going to be five or 10 people there,” Andrew said with that signature smile, which also has changed. He has lost two teeth since Thanksgiving.
What hasn’t changed is Andrew’s affinity for drawing and creating his own books. So as he and his mother think about a possible next project, they’re considering writing a book about the Love One Another effort.
The illustrations in that book will be handled by Andrew, of course.