It started with pennies.

Students at Welch Elementary School began collecting pennies on Dec. 2 to be donated to Smile Train, a charity that helps children in the world’s poorest countries to have cleft lips and palates repaired.

By Friday, they had collected $2,024.27.

“We made it a point to collect pennies so that everyone could participate,”  said Kim Hall, principal. “ Our goal was to put smiles on three children. Smile Train estimates it takes $250 to put a smile on a child with a cleft. Our students raised more than $2,000. That puts a smile on more than eight children.

“ I’m really proud of all the students and their efforts.”

The collection also had something called “sabotoge.”

The children would check and see which class had the most amount collected and put silver coins and dollar bills in their collection jars. The amount of silver and dollars would be deducted from the class’ total.

After the sabotoge, Roseann Downum’s third-grade class collected the most, $204.

“Mrs. Downum’s class and a second class collected enough to fund their own smiles,”  Hall said.

The teachers’ aide in each class would bring the money to the office each day and help the staff count it and roll it.

“It would take hours,”  Hall said.

The collection was presented to the student body with a video during the “ rise and shine”  assembly.

“I asked the students to lay down and think about getting everything they wished for for Christmas,”  Hall said. “ Then they looked at the video and realized that the children with the clefts could never smile.”

“I felt very sad for them,”  said Casey Pendergraft, sixth-grade student. “ I thought it would be terrible to never be able to smile.”

Some students actually made sacrifices to gather pennies for the collection.

“I had some pennies in my dresser drawer and brought them in,”  said Jake Quinton in the winning third-grade class. “I also did without my ice cream so I couldĺ donate the money.”

Quinton’s grandmother, like many relatives of the students, made a donation on Friday with her grandchildren’s permission.

“They willingly gave up Christmas gifts to help these children get the necessary surgery,”  Hall said.

“This made it very real to me that it’s not just what you get for Christmas,”  Pendergraft said. “ I found out that the best gift is the one you can give.”

“I was really happy to make this donation to help the kids,”  Quinton said. “ Then they can smile at their mom and dad.”

After finding out the amount collected Friday, Welch Elementary School had an extra recess.

“ They did so well, better than we ever expected, we had to give them a reward,”  Hall said.

In addition to Quinton, other students in Downum’s winning third-grade class include Josh Baker, Eli Chenoweth, Olivia Chenoweth, Tristan Davis, Chandler Dry, Greydon Garrettson, Dallas Garza, Zach Goodson, Spencer Hankins, Madisen Horton, Gunner Johnson, Brett Mayfield, Brice Mayfield, Shelby McClintick, Seth Miller, Ethan Sajulga, Trenton Siegel, Grace Small, Renee Tracy and James Walters.