Third-grader Brandon Acero eagerly ran from the cover of a pavilion into a mass of large falling snowflakes to search for other tiny white things already fallen on the ground: cigarette butts.
"I found one," he said and leaned over at a picnic table's corner to pick up a butt with his plastic-gloved hand. He placed it somewhat delicately into a butt-disposal bucket and ran off to the creek, the skate park, the railway tracks, to look for more.
"Here's one, here's two," he squealed.
"Look over here," said Carson High School student council member Lindsey Kern, keeping the search on and the spirit up.
Despite the snow and the cold, small groups of seven or eight third-graders and high school students scoured Mills Park for a half hour Friday, ridding it of the tiny butts.
"I think it's great that they're out here," said Gavin Grisamore, president of RESIST, Carson High School's tobacco education team. "It's snowing. Their hands are cold, but they're still picking up butts and having a great time."
Many third-graders stayed closed to the older high school students for warmth, but others, like Brandon, ran from spot to spot, enlivened by the experience.
"It's better to get it over with now than wait," Brandon said to a complaining classmate.
Mikaela Powell, in a warm jacket, collected butts with Brandon's group.
"We don't want cigarettes near the playground or near anything you can play with," she said. "Just the scent of the cigarettes can make you have black lungs."
This is the third year in a row that Carson High's RESIST students and student council members paired with Bordewich-Bray Elementary School third graders to look for cigarettes.
"We do our tobacco education program for fourth- and fifth-graders," said Misty Harris, advisor to the RESIST tobacco education program. "We do this with third-graders because we're trying to reach as many grade levels as we can."
The goal of the clean-up campaign is to collect at least as many butts as there are chemicals in the cigarettes.
"That's 4,000," Grisamore said. "There's 4,000 chemicals in each cigarette. Last year, we collected 10,000 butts."
n Contact reporter Maggie O'Neill at email@example.com or 881-1219.