Sixth-grader devotes herself to helping others

Audrey Carlson, a sixth-grade student at Campbell County's 4-J Elementary School is in her seventh year of giving her entire annual allowance to buy food for Gillette food drives. (Photo by August Frank, Gillette News Record)

GILLETTE — As she explained her desire to spend her year’s allowance on giving food to the needy, sixth-grader Audrey Carlson looked at a poster about the law of cause and effect hanging in the hallway outside her classroom.

The law states that there is a definite cause for every effect and, likewise, for every cause, there is a definite effect.

It’s a natural law that also reflects Audrey herself. This is her seventh straight year of giving her entire year’s allowance — earned by doing chores at home and by earning A’s and B’s in class — to buy food for local food drives.

While it’s a scientific concept, Audrey, the daughter of Bo and John Carlson, is learning how cause and effect works in life, as well.

A young girl who has become known for her spirit of giving in her rural 4-J Elementary School, she’s setting an example for all of us.

‘I’m doing the right thing’

“It just gives me a good feeling and I know I’m doing the right thing,” she said, glancing up at that cause and effect poster once more.

When she was young, she accompanied her mother when she volunteered to deliver Christmas food baskets to families in Sundance, where she lived until moving to Gillette three years ago.

Audrey remembers people crying in gratitude over the gift, while others wouldn’t take the food and wished, instead, for it to be given to others in need.

“My mom told me about people and why they do it,” she said. “We’d go to homes, and I’d feel so bad for them.

“It gave me a warm feeling when I did this at school and I decided to give all my allowance money to give food.”

When she was in kindergarten, she was unable to do all the chores on the family’s chore chart. She mainly fed the dogs or did the dishes. That year, she only earned about $40, Audrey said.

In each of the past two years, she’s given about $100 in allowance money, helping 4-J School gather a school record 2,308 items in 2018. As a result, 4-J won the rural school category of the local food drive.

So far this school year, Audrey has collected $118 in allowance money, and she hopes to add to that before the food drive deadline Dec. 18. She’s already brought in 228 food items, lining up her donations in that same hallway outside her teacher Lacy Rodgers’ classroom. She’s able to do more chores now that she’s older, including cleaning and laundry.

Included in her donations are Ramen noodles, green beans, a huge jar of Ragu sauce, bags of rice, pudding packs and many other items.

She’s also learned to use sales and discounts to increase her donations. The large macaroni and cheese boxes were on sale for buy one, get one free.

“My parents have said they are proud of me,” said Audrey. who keeps track of her chores and allowance by writing it down on the chore calendar.

On her annual shopping trip for the food drive, Audrey said, “People are looking at me saying, ‘who gets that much food?’”

Once she tells them, their response is encouraging.

“If everybody pitched in a little, then no one would get hungry,” she said. Another example of the law of cause and effect.

“It makes me happy knowing I’m helping someone else,” Audrey said. “I kind of think we’re all brothers and sisters. We’re all related.”

No surprise here

None of this surprises Rodgers or school principal David Hardesty.

“What a great kid,” Hardesty said. “It’s been great to watch her grow. It’s why we’re here. That doesn’t surprise me.”

He recalls watching her as a fourth-grader as she chose to play with new kindergartners at recess so they wouldn’t be nervous. She let them pick the games they played.

“She’s the kind of girl who is always thinking about others,” Rodgers added.

Last year, students received a length of duct tape to attach Hardesty to the wall in the 4-J gym based on how many items they donated to the food drive. Audrey received 52 pieces of tape (one for every five items donated). And in the end, she gave 15 pieces of tape away to others in the school.

Then she brought a book for Hardesty to read while he was attached to the wall, in case he got bored. She left the book where it sat, though, when she realized his arms were also attached to the wall and he couldn’t flip the pages as he read.

It’s all about cause and effect, something Bo has learned from her daughter, too.

“She’s always been such a giver,” she said. “She’s always said, ‘I want to spend my money on the school food drive.’ As she’s gotten older, she’s taken on more responsibility.

“I told her, ‘Audrey, you don’t always have to spend all your money on this.’ But she said, ‘Mom, it makes me happy.’”

It’s usually Audrey who prods her mom into taking her to the store to buy the mounds of food each year for the school drive.

“The cool thing is, Audrey gets more excited about doing the shopping. She’s really a thrifty shopper too. That’s cool as a mom,” Bo said.

Cause and effect

When she grows older, Audrey said she wants to be a baker and also work the kind of job her mother did in giving out food to families in need.

“I don’t know how to bake, but she’s great at it,” Bo said, recalling how Audrey’s cupcakes sold for $150 a year ago at the Thanksgiving feast and auction, a tradition that took place again Wednesday at 4-J School.

“I think it’s cool, if she has a drive to do it,” Bo said of the allowance money-food drive exchange.

“I’m a really lucky mom, really lucky,” she said, looking directly at Audrey sitting across the lunch table from her as Bo’s eyes became a bit misty.

“This is her favorite part of the year.”

“Mom, you’re the one that’s inspired me,” Audrey said quietly.

Then Bo shed some tears.

Cause and effect.