08/14/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT
It was back in 1954 when the PTA at Middleburg Elementary School in Virginia put out a call for help in repairing some long-forgotten clothes that students had left behind. "They asked if someone could sew and patch them to give away," recalls Anna Beavers, then 32 and teaching third grade. She promptly volunteered, offering to wash and mend sweaters, shirts and other clothes for area children. But this was no onetime project. Over the ensuing decades, Beavers made it her mission to provide proper clothing for kids in need. "It's meant a lot to me," she says. "I just couldn't see a child dirty and ragged. The others would make fun of them."
Now 78 and retired since 1987, Beavers regularly visits three Middleburg schools to collect the names of kids she can help. She has cut back on personal deliveries and instead mails packages with mended togs to seven families with a total of 21 children. "She is a quiet hero," says former student Diane Preece, 42. "She tends to everyone's needs."
Living on limited income since her husband, Dudley, a cattle and grain farmer, died in 1994, she accepts donations but also finances her good works by making and selling quilts. This allows Beavers, who grew up on a tobacco farm in South Hill, Va., to do what is still most important to her—keeping poor kids from feeling like outcasts. "They're standing with their peers," she says. "I just maybe give them the foundation they need to get going."