It's hard to imagine that kids would ever get excited about a simple thing like soap.

But at Highlands Elementary School in Edina, a soap drive has captivated the students, with one first-grader even requesting soap for Christmas.

It's thanks to "Soap 4 Hope," a unique fundraiser the school has taken on this month, aiming to collect bars of soap to benefit families in Haiti some 2,200 miles away.

"We want to give back to the world," fifth-grader Logan Sudeith said.

The Edina school is one of dozens across the country conducting soap drives to help squelch a deadly cholera outbreak in the poverty-stricken Caribbean country, which is still reeling from last year's massive earthquake. More than 1,000 people have died from the disease, likely spread through infected water.

Experts say that better sanitation efforts could prevent more than 60 percent of the deaths. Yet, many Haitians can't even afford a bar of soap.

Far from the devastation and death, Edina students are unabashedly optimistic that they can help.

"This is probably the best present they've ever gotten," said fifth-grader Aidan Decker.

Inspiration for the project stemmed from an article read by their teacher, Michael Seaman, with a headline that said it all: "The difference between life and death in Haiti is now an ordinary bar of soap."

"The kids took it from there," he said.

The first- through fifth-grade students pulled together with South View Middle School and, by Monday's count, had collected 7,000 bars of soap.

Students wrote letters to national businesses and celebrities, urging them to help. They created a YouTube video. And they got help from Clean the World, an Orlando-based nonprofit that collects hotel amenities that would be thrown away.

The company has sent 1.5 million soap bars to Haiti in the last year and 7 million soap bars to the United States and other countries.

"There are children around the world ... who are dying because they don't have the ability to wash their hands," said Matt Gomez of Clean the World.

The soap bars the Edina students collect will be shipped to Florida, thanks to parent Timothy Chapdelaine and his coffee import company. There, it will be loaded on a cruise liner that is expected to make it to Haiti on Monday or soon after -- a Christmas gift to a country that's been dealt more than its share of devastation and death in the last year.

That's not lost on the elementary school students, who said they don't take their fortune for granted.

"People are complaining about having the wrong color iPod or a TV in their room," fifth-grader Kylie Imholte said. In Haiti, "They're dying for a piece of soap."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141