For the last community service project of the year, students at Hays STEAM Academy are collecting colorful socks in honor of Mallory Smith, who died in January 2011 of Wilson disease.

Hays fifth grade teacher Sydney Garcia was a second cousin of Mallory’s. The projects are student led so Garcia had them pick what appealed to them most and it was hospitals and children.

Garcia said she had family in Alabama and Georgia and told them about Smith.

According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders website, “Wilson disease is a rare genetic disorder characterized by excess copper stored in various body tissues, particularly the liver, brain, and corneas of the eyes. The disease is progressive and, if left untreated, it may cause liver (hepatic) disease, central nervous system dysfunction, and death.”

Part of the purpose of the project was to help students feel like after a year of being cooped up during the pandemic, they could still have an impact on the wider world.

The goal is to collect 750 pair of new socks for infants to age 17 by May 17.

“We decided to do crazy socks because they’re colorful and fun,” 10-year-old fifth-grader Bella Fortune said.

As of the morning of April 28, they had 22 pair of socks. The project has been on social media and retweeted by state Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa.

Garcia said they will be donating all of the socks to Team Mal in Georgia and they will give them to children’s hospitals in honor of Mallory Smith.

The class will also celebrate with a pizza party if they meet the goal of 750 pairs.

Fortune said the students have been reaching out to people in Ector County ISD via Gmail and had a flyer contest where they sent out the best flyers.

Eleven-year-old fifth-grader Corley Howard said she emailed the principal and made a public service announcement about the venture to get people more excited about it.

“… Whichever class donates the most socks out of the whole school gets a pizza party,” Howard said.

Ten-year-old fifth grader Levi Mussulman said he emailed Permian High School counselor Leslie Gillian and ECISD Superintendent Scott Muri about the sock drive.

Garcia said the students also have contacted University of Texas Permian Basin and Odessa College. A UTPB professor shared it with all of her students and she added that several teachers in ECISD have responded and said that they’re going to send out the word to their students and let her know when they have the socks collected.

Garcia said the amount of attention this project has received has surprised her because their previous ones hadn’t gotten as much of a spotlight.

Fifth graders Bella Fortune, 10, left, Levi Mussulman, 10, center, and Corley Howard, 11, pose for a photo with their crazy sock donation box Wednesday morning at Hays Steam Academy. They will be donating all the socks to Team Mal in Georgia and they will give them to children’s hospitals in honor of Mallory Smith. The class will also celebrate with a pizza party if they meet the goal of 750 pairs. (Jacob Ford|Odessa American)

When they decided on the project, Garcia said the students did research on how to design a flyer, what Wilson disease is, learned how to email professionally and call different people in the district.

“Corley had to learn that it’s scary to have your voice up there on the loudspeaker. Even though nobody’s looking at you, she realized that that was a big difference so we’ve had to work on our speaking skills. But the biggest thing was that they’ve taken the lead completely. I had several ideas lined up that might match what they wanted to do. And so when they said hospitals and children I thought oh, here’s this idea, but they didn’t just say, ‘Oh yeah.’ They wanted to know about it; they wanted to know what the impact was going to be. … It was more than just me saying, ‘Hey guys, y’all are going to do this project. …,’” Garcia said.

She said she thought maybe the students would be tired of community service projects, but it wasn’t the case with this one.

“… They really have a grasp of this one and taken such charge with it. I think it’s great that it’s gotten so much attention, because it just goes to show them that they can help outside of Texas. They can help outside of Odessa and they really are leading the change as students and they are making a difference,” Garcia said.

She added that when Mallory was young, she was a cheerleader, “a normal high school student.”

“Then she started getting sick and they found out she had Wilson disease. Wilson disease is kind of you find out (about) when it’s too late; you already need help. She actually had a liver transplant and so her parents advocate a lot for organ donations, and they also advocate for her. They created a scholarship fund for … college so we’ve been able to talk as a class about scholarship funds and how that works. … Every year they collect donations for socks, so they have sock drives as well and they donate socks in honor of her to the children’s hospital. They are thrilled and they are so excited. Brooks Landgraf retweeted us on Twitter. He retweeted the flyer, so I got to share that news with them. They think it’s amazing that it’s spread this far, all the way to Texas, and they have so many people there that are excited to see the attention it’s getting,” Garcia said.

The Smiths have a Facebook page called Pay it Forward and they collect donations for the scholarship fund and sock drive. Garcia said they do other things, too, but those are the two main projects.

“I feel really proud because our class has come a long way since like the first day of school,” Fortune said. “And I’m pretty sure that the story behind the donation has really impacted on the way we think about the community service project and made us work harder for helping other people.”

Howard said what impacted her most was how Mallory, even in the hospital, didn’t just think about herself. She thought about other children in hospitals and wanted to bring socks to them to cheer them up.

“I think it made me think more about how we treat people because she could have just not talked to any of those people or just stayed in her hospital room, but she wanted to make them happy before she passed away,” Howard said.