Pax River fire department receives students’ Passion Project donations

St. John’s School seventh-graders Ava Currie, left, and Cristiana Wasel present some of the stuffed toys they collected via their class Passion Project to members of the Naval District Washington Fire & Emergency Service Department at NAS Patuxent River. The toys will be used to help calm children who find themselves riding in an ambulance.

Members of Naval District Washington Fire and Emergency Services at NAS Patuxent River accepted a donation of 80 stuffed animal toys from two St. John’s School students May 5.

When tasked by their teacher to find a project they were passionate about, seventh-graders Cristiana Wasel and Ava Currie decided it would be helping children unlucky enough to find themselves in the back of an ambulance.

Teacher Jennifer McCarthy’s “Passion Project” had three requirements for her class: Identify what you’re passionate about, what you will learn, and how it will help others.

“We both like helping kids, and we wanted to give back to others,” Wasel said. “We originally thought we’d donate to a hospital.”

With some research and a little help from Katie Zwick of the Lexington Park Volunteer Rescue Squad, the girls learned that rescue squads often use small toys to help calm frightened children during ambulance rides, and with that in mind, they worked together to develop Funrise Toy Donations.

Zwick’s guidance helped them further narrow down the size and type of toy that ambulances can safely carry, and the girls got busy creating and distributing fliers — which asked people to help “spread kindness and love” — throughout St. Mary’s County. They also crafted donation boxes and placed them at various locations in the community. In just three weeks, the pair collected over 1,000 small stuffed toys.

“After collecting them, we sorted them, sanitized them, and prepared them for donation in sealed containers,” Wasel noted.

To date, Wasel and Currie — whose dad is a Pax River firefighter — have also donated containers of toys to the Ridge, Leonardtown, Mechanicsville and Hollywood Volunteer Rescue Squads; and there’s an additional planned delivery to the Avenue 7th District Volunteer Rescue Squad on May 21.

The girls, both members of the National Junior Honors Society, still have hundreds of toys to donate and are actively seeking more rescue squads or police departments who might benefit from their efforts. If interested, contact them at