Take bracelets with cute plush animals attached, a family in need after a fire and a school full of kids, and what do you get? More than $500 in cash, gift cards and household supplies. Student council members at St. Ferdinand School, 3131 N. Mason Ave., sold “cuddle buddies” bracelets for the second year during Catholic Schools Week to raise money for a good cause. The only difference was that this year the cause was close to home: a family with children who attend nearby St. Bartholomew School, 4941 N. Patterson Ave. They are still figuring out just how much they raised — some people were still making donations as of Feb. 7, the Monday after Catholic Schools Week — but the principal, Erin Boyle Folino, told them that they would raise $500 if the bracelets sold out, which they did, according to student council president and seventh grader Cecylia Venturella. Seven members of the Baca family lived on the second floor of a house that caught fire Jan. 19, with two children — a fifth grader and a second grader — who attend St. Bartholomew, and another son who is a sophomore at Notre Dame College Prep in Niles. The related Villa family lived on the third floor with an eighth grader attending St. Bartholomew School. According to a GoFundMe launched by an adult child who no longer lived there, everyone got out uninjured but the family lost a pet dog and cat and nearly everything they own. Even items stored in the basement that weren’t affected by the fire were lost to water damage, and a second cat required extensive veterinary care. Student council members from St. Ferdinand accompanied Folino to deliver the gifts to St. Bartholomew School on Feb. 14. Kindergarten students at St. Ferdinand were among the biggest purchasers of the $2 bracelets, and many of their families sent in extra donations, said kindergarten teacher Corrie Rettelle. “We do fire safety month in October, and we talk about what to do if you have a fire in your house,” Rettelle said as her students made cards to be delivered with donated items. “So they knew what I was talking about when I told them there was a family that had a fire in their house.” The students proudly wore their bracelets, sporting dolphins and pterodactyls and unicorns on their arms while they drew rainbows and flowers on cards for the families. In fourth grade, teacher Yeidra Martin used the donation as an opportunity to teach her students about writing letters. She went over greetings and introductions, then suggested the students share ways they have learned to get through difficult days. “This is where you make that bond with them,” she told the students, many of whom wore bracelets as well. “This is a sympathy letter, and this is where you tell them that you care about them, and you aren’t going anywhere. … They need that right now. This was a tragic event, yes, but thank God they are all right.” Folino said she heard about the fire from the principal at St. Bartholomew, Nilma Osiecki, and when she asked staff and student council members if they would be willing to direct their Catholic Schools Week charity to them, everyone was all for it. “It was perfect,” said Cecylia, the student council president, as the pastor, Father Peter Gnoinski blessed the gifts, as well those who gave them and those who were to receive them. “Not only are we helping people, but it’s someone close to us.” The bracelets were especially popular among the younger students, said Deren Bilgin, an eighth grader and student council vice president. “They would come in and buy two or three,” she said. “I think they find the stuffed animals comforting,” Cecylia said. And, often, students had extra money to donate from their parents, Folino said. The items the school sent to St. Bartholomew to be given to the family included baskets full of towels, toiletries, sweatshirts, paper towels and gift cards for stores such as Target and area restaurants. Student council members said they had learned about the importance of generosity in school as well as at home. “Sister Agnes (Michna, a Missionary Sister of Christ the King), our religion teacher, teaches us that Jesus wants us to help people,” said Zofia Gacek, a seventh grader and student council secretary. “It feels good to be able to do that.” To donate to the Baca and Villa family GoFundMe, visit gofundme.com/f/two-families-lost-everything-in-fire.