Caring through car seats
By Josh Bootsma
LANSING, Ill. (January 20, 2022) – As pandemic concerns caused Lansing schools to limit in-person interactions as much as possible, Lester Crawl Primary Center started sending staff out to receive students from their vehicles, rather than having parents or guardians walk their children into the building.
As Lynda Torres helped unload her students from their cars, she noticed a concerning trend: some of the cars she was seeing did not have adequate car seats.
“Every day, I’m more and more shocked at the kids that aren’t in car seats or booster seats. And then I felt worse because I’m putting them in cars to go home and they’re not in booster seats. And I know that it’s the law and I know it’s important,” Torres said.
A turning point for Torres was a day that she received a student from a car that also had a baby inside.
“As I turned to say goodbye to the mom, I looked back and she had an infant on her lap. And it just broke my heart,” she said.
Torres said she regularly listens to motivational speeches on her way to work, and the next day she heard something that stuck with her: “So many people like to complain about a situation, but they don’t do anything about it.”
57 car seats later, Torres has bucked the trend: she saw a problem and did something to fix it.
Car seat campaign
In her own preschool class, Torres — who’s worked at Lester Crawl for 31 years — knew she’d need eight car seats. She then sent a Google survey to school staff to share with parents, which determined that 55 families needed 57 car seats, either booster seats or larger five-point harness seats for younger children.
Torres said over the last few months, she’s used all kinds of help to gather the funds needed to buy the car seats. After an initial influx of 27 car seats from her generous network, Torres came to her church, Dyer United Methodist, and asked if they could help her campaign. They provided $1,200 toward the purchase of car seats.
“I asked my friends and family to buy them for me for Christmas this year. So my niece and nephew bought me a car seat for Christmas, my brother bought be a car seat for Christmas, my sister bought me a car seat for Christmas, and my own kids bought me a car seat for Christmas,” Torres said.
“The FedEx guy finally said, after the fifth car seat, he said, ‘There is no way these people have more than five kids of their own.’ He finally said, ‘Do you want to just open the garage? Because I have 11 today,'” Torres said.
The car seats range from large five point harness seats for younger children to booster seats designed for older children. Torres said the larger seats can be later converted to a booster, meaning families will not have to buy a replacement seat when their child gets older.
Torres also said some families have different family members that regularly pick up children, such as a grandparent or other relative. Any family member that needed a car seat could pick one up as well.
“Any Lester Crawl family that needed one is getting one. Even if it’s a second one,” Torres said.
Car seat installation
The five-point harness seats were installed into vehicles after school on Wednesday, January 19. Officer Dana Tatgenhorst from the Lansing Police Department is a certified as a Child Passenger Safety technician, and installed the car seats in vehicles.
Torres said parents have been very appreciative of the car seats.
“On Friday, we started taking a few kids that just were getting the booster, and one of the seats had dinosaurs on it, and this little boy wanted to carry it to the car. He was so excited. He skipped all the way to the car. That is what made it for me, that there was actually a kid excited to get their car seat,” Torres said.
Hearts for children
Though Torres was quick to say the event wasn’t about her, Lester Crawl Principal Dr. Kim Morley praised Torres, and the efforts of everyone involved.
“My staff is pretty much private. They don’t like to toot their horn. But I’m going to do it for them. I think this is phenomenal,” Morley said. She said of Torres in particular: “She definitely has a heart for these kids. She’s probably the longest standing teacher in this building. … She’s been here and worked with preschool students. … Her heart just goes out to all children.”
Lester Crawl Primary Center is located at 18300 Greenbay Avenue in Lansing.
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