When winter sets in — really sets in — the bus ride to Head Start preschool can be frigid when you weigh only 30 pounds.

“Some of our kids ride a little more than half an hour, and they're pretty little guys,” said Kathy Kelker, executive director of Head Start. “They get very cold when they're on the bus.”

So to help, sewing students from Skyview High crafted 10 small fleece blankets for the preschoolers to wear on their laps while they ride to school.

“They are just beautiful,” Kelker told the students as she looked at each blanket.

The high schoolers visited the Head Start headquarters near downtown Billings on Thursday morning to deliver the blankets and meet some of the kids.

Head Start is federal preschool program that provides education, health services and family support for low-income children. Across its four locations, Billings Head Start has enrolled 390 preschoolers — only 40 percent of those who apply, Kelker said.

The need in Billings is huge, she said.

Walking from classroom to classroom, the Skyview students visited with students as they were eating a breakfast of pancakes, applesauce and milk.

“So cute,” exclaimed Cassie Ochsner, a junior.

Sewing teacher Marjie Hathaway is a friend of Kelker's, and as the two talked last summer, Hathaway asked if there was something her class could do to help.

Kelker immediately asked if her students would make the blankets. Hathaway loved the idea.

“It's just a really good thing for them to do,” Hathaway said.

The buses are heated, Kelker said. But they cool off considerably during their routes as they stop to pick up kids and the doors continually open and close.

After class started in the fall, Hathaway announced the projects the students would undertake during the school year. First up was quilting a large blanket for Pack the Place in Pink, the breast cancer awareness campaign.

“It was really heartwarming to see them work together like that,” Hathaway said.

Crafting the blankets for Head Start seemed like a great follow-up.

“We didn't know we'd be doing it,” freshman Shaelynn Wacaser said.

It ended up being a really cool project, she said.

“It helps me feel like I'm giving to the community,” Ochsner said.

“It's really fun, too,” Wacaser said. “It makes my day.”

Contact Rob Rogers at rrogers@billingsgazette.com or 657-1231.

Contact Rob Rogers at rrogers@billingsgazette.com or 657-1231.

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