Ethan Reno, a fifth-grade student at West Bath Elementary School, was so captivated by the idea of giving livestock to impoverished families in foreign countries so they would have the means to send their children to school, he wanted to do more.

Ethan, 10, had been participating in a reading challenge at his school since he was in kindergarten to raise money for Heifer International, a charity that has provided livestock to 20.7 million families in 125 countries since its inception in 1944.

So when school librarian Elena Desjardins in April again launched the annual reading challenge, Read to Feed, Ethan approached her after school one day with a plan.

Desjardins made Ethan an honorary ambassador for the school’s Read to Feed program, empowering the energetic boy to start a poster and social media campaign, recruit other students to the challenge and speak before the entire school at an inspirational assembly.

Ethan told his story on Saturday at a 70th anniversary celebration for Heifer International at Woodfords Congregational Church in Portland. His efforts this year helped his school raise a previously unheard of amount of $7,525 for the charity. That single-year amount nearly matched all the money raised through Read to Feed at his school for all other years since 2008 combined

“I had to do a lot of work at my house and at my lunchtime and recess time, but it paid off,” Ethan said during an interview. “I saw how all these kids wanted to go to school, but they couldn’t because they didn’t have any money. Maybe to give another kid a chance would be better for the world and make more kids happy.”

Desjardins, known as “Mrs. D” to the students, began the program at West Bath Elementary after she had transitioned from being a classroom teacher to the school’s librarian, allowing her to see not just a classroom of students each day but all of the students in the whole school.

“I’m passionate about it,” Desjardins said of the Read to Feed program. “My passion to want to give back and help the needy takes over, so I don’t want to do it on just a small scale.”

West Bath Elementary was not the only Maine school participating in the program this year. And Idexx Laboratories, an international company based in Westbrook, presented a $20,000 check to the charity at Saturday’s event.

The keynote speaker at Saturday’s celebration was Maine resident Jan Schrock, whose father, Dan West, founded Heifer International during World War II to help devastated families left starving from the war.

Heifer International works on the premise that quick-fix handouts like money and food may help temporarily, but do not raise families from poverty in the long term. Instead, the charity provides livestock, allowing impoverished families to have the means to produce food and income.

Heifer International also trains families that receive the livestock and asks them to promise to pass on their animals’ first female offspring to another family to spread the wealth.

Saturday’s celebration was one of about 20 that Heifer International is holding across the country in honor of its anniversary. It drew more than 50 people, who snacked from fruit and cheese plates and sipped apple cider as they first viewed displays, then listened to speakers and music.

Schrock told the pivotal story of her father’s life that led him to found the charitable organization 70 years ago.

West had been a teacher and principal at a school in Ohio, but left in 1937 as a member of the Church of the Brethren to go to the front lines of the Spanish Civil War as an aid worker.

Schrock said her father and the other aid workers arrived in burned-out towns with shoes, clothes, blankets and powdered milk to find that only women, children and old men were left. All the young men had been killed.

“The farms were burned, the cattle were slaughtered and winter was coming,” Schrock said. “So they were very thankful for the powdered milk.”

But there was so little food to go around, the aid workers had to make the painful decision of deciding who should get the powdered milk. They ultimately decided on the women with babies showing weight gain, Schrock said.

When her father returned from the war, Schrock said he “talked to everyone” in his hometown in the Midwest.

“People started coming and gathering at our homes and said, ‘What should we do?’ They were farmers, so it was easy. They decided to give them cows,” Schrock recalled.

Heifer International sent its first shipment of livestock to the needy in Puerto Rico in 1944. After World War II, it sent 7,000 men to accompany 360 shipments of livestock to Europe between 1945 and 1947.

“The heifers and sometimes horses went to countries all around Europe,” Schrock said.