Though only 8 years old, Samantha Vance, a student at Haley Elementary School, wanted to do something about loneliness she saw on the playground.
Her solution? A buddy bench.
“If somebody’s lonely they can sit on the buddy bench and somebody can come up to them and they can play together and make new friends,” she said. “I know a lot of people who are lonely and they don’t have really any friends and new people to the school they could use it and I would use it too.”
Samantha got the idea during vacation Bible school at Blackhawk Ministries.
“She came to me the night after VBS and told me, Mom, our school needs this, and then wanted to contact the principal and schedule a meeting,” Samantha’s mom, Heidi Vance, said.
Heidi Vance looked into some bench options and found a company in Evansville that could make a bench for a third of the price she had seen other places. The only caveat? They had to also collect 400 pounds of plastic caps for one 6-foot bench, approximately 10 55-gallon drums’ worth.
The Vances got to work spreading the word, posting the idea on Facebook and telling family and friends. Samantha even got to have a table at Haley’s back-to-school night and make an announcement once school began.
With that the word spread – and spread. Heidi Vance said the TinCaps have made announcements at their games, the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo has been collecting caps and Fort4Fitness has allowed them to collect the caps from the water bottles of their runners.
They also have several local pharmacies, local businesses and even friends in places as far away as Africa collecting caps for them.
“Somebody called and said they had 60 pounds of caps and loved the cause,” Heidi said. “I think it’s the heart of a child, pure of heart, that just has a love for people and wants to include [others]. And that she’s actually doing something about it – instead of just talking about it she’s willing to actually do the work.”
In only five weeks’ time, the Vances have collected 10 barrels worth of caps.
“It feels really good,” Samantha said of the response. “I thought it would take two weeks to even fill up one barrel.”
Because of their quick success, they set their sights higher: first to do a bench for each of the school’s two playgrounds, then to collect enough caps for a third bench and to help other schools work toward their own buddy benches.
By Oct. 9, they had already collected 1,000 pounds of caps.
“The school was all excited and the kids loved bringing [the caps] in so we’re going to continue on. Our goal is Nov. 3, if we can get [1,200 pounds] by then, that’s a day she has off school so we’ll bring the caps down to pick up” the benches, Heidi Vance said. “Then the goal would be to help other area schools. … There have been quite a few who have said now our kids want to start it, which is great, that’s what we want.”
Those interested in donating can request to join Sammie’s Buddy Bench Project on Facebook or contact the school. In addition to caps, the family is accepting donations to cover the cost of transporting the caps down to Evansville and engraving the benches.
“Whatever [we get] will be put toward that cost and any extra will go toward the next school’s bench,” Heidi Vance said. “There’s nothing we’re keeping; we want to pass it along.”
HOW IT’S DONE
Items being accepted for buddy benches:
“The rule of thumb is it has to be less than 8 inches, it has to be able to float and it’s got to be plastic,” Heidi Vance said.
Accepted caps include medicine bottle caps, drink bottle caps, milk jug caps, flip-top caps (as on some ketchup and mustard bottles), detergent caps, spout caps (as on some mustard bottles), hair spray caps, spray paint caps, toothpaste tube caps, ointment tube caps, deodorant caps, Go-Go caps and caps with recycle numbers 2, 4 and 5.
Accepted lids include cottage cheese container lids, whipped topping container lids, mayonnaise jar lids, coffee can lids, yogurt lids, cream cheese container lids, peanut butter jar lids, butter container lids and ice cream bucket lids under 8 inches.
Also accepted are prescription bottles with labels removed.