Walking along the shoreline at Kure Beach, N.C., on Wednesday, Keith Taylor spotted something shiny and red.
As he got closer, he realized it was a balloon. He picked it up and spotted a label: “If found, please contact us and let us know,” it said. It was signed “Andrew V.,” a second-grader at Kelly Elementary School in Wichita.
“I couldn’t believe it flew that far,” Taylor said.
Nearly 1,400 miles, in fact, from Wichita to the Atlantic Ocean. (Or 1,100 miles as the crow – or balloon – flies.)
Dawn Carter, a music teacher at Kelly Elementary, near 31st Street South and Seneca, said the balloon was part of a launch to mark Red Ribbon Week, an alcohol, tobacco and drug prevention awareness campaign.
About 500 red balloons were released at the school Monday. Several were found the next day in Wichita, Carter said. Another – the balloon released by Hayden Niblett, a third-grader – was discovered Wednesday in Kannopolis, N.C., northeast of Charlotte.
“We love to hear where they turn up,” said Carter, who started the annual balloon launch at Kelly in 2006. Over the years, balloons have been found in Rhode Island, Tennessee, Arkansas and Wisconsin, she said. A map outside her classroom marks the spots.
Sometimes people write a short note or send pictures of themselves with the Red Ribbon Week balloon, she said.
Taylor, 54, who is recovering from a liver transplant in April, said he found the Wichita balloon as he was collecting shells, enjoying the ocean and reflecting on the beauty of life. He had accompanied several friends on their annual fishing trip to the coast.
“Just a few months ago, I didn’t think I would even be around,” he said.
He plans to send some of the shells to Andrew’s class so the students can see a little bit of the North Carolina coastline.
“My wife’s a kindergarten teacher, so I know how much it will mean to the kids,” he said. “That’s a pretty neat deal.”