Feature stories

Educators step up for their students

Staffers from IS 220 in Brooklyn, joined by UFT District 20 Representative Ellen Miller Photography

Staffers from IS 220 in Brooklyn, joined by UFT District 20 Representative Ellen Driesen (right), show off the clothing.

Hundreds of families in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, had a chance to stock up on new clothes thanks to a trio of hard-working educators at IS 220 and Primary, an online kids clothing company. Teacher Rachel Geiger (center) joins a mom and daughter who display their choiceMiller PhotographyTeacher Rachel Geiger (center) joins a mom and daughter who display their choices.

Primary donated 30,000 units of clothing — everything from leggings to T-shirts to hoodies — for a clothing giveaway at the school on Dec. 18 and 19 for Giving Tuesday, a global giving movement.

Rachel Geiger, a 7th-grade special education teacher, was the link between a friend who works at Primary and the school’s Community Service Team of Christina Pennisi and Victoria Reinhardt. With the blessing of Principal Sheldon Dempster, the threesome got to work.

“There was a lot of preparation and planning,” said Geiger, including “sorting through thousands of units of clothing and organizing by sizes. I was really nervous about the turnout so we did a lot of work passing out fliers to ensure the word was being spread. And we spent the entire day of the event preparing the gym.” Teacher Christina Pennisi helps a mom pick out some clothes.Miller PhotographyTeacher Christina Pennisi helps a mom pick out some clothes. Parents get some assistance with their choices from IS 220 teacher Christina RugMiller PhotographyParents get some assistance with their choices from IS 220 teacher Christina Ruggiero (left).

They “brought their vision to life” in only three very busy weeks, Pennisi said, with help from other teachers and the PTA. Two local elementary schools, PS 503 and PS 506, also were invited as were members of the general community.

School families and community members could receive, for free, up to 20 articles of new clothing in sizes ranging from 0–3 months to 10–12.

“About 700 people came through our gym to get clothes,” said Pennisi, a 7th-grade English language arts teacher who is no stranger to large community service events. “It was amazing.”

More than 500 families crowded the gym on Monday, the first day of the two-day event. Only baby clothes were left by Giving Tuesday. English teacher Emily Cama (left) assists parent Min Jie Chen.Miller PhotographyEnglish teacher Emily Cama (left) assists parent Min Jie Chen.

“I was truly in awe of the turnout,” said Geiger. “It exceeded my expectations. The energy was so positive and exciting.”

Pennisi said parents were not told in advance exactly what to expect and were overwhelmed to learn they could stuff their bags with so many useful items.

“We are a Title I school and 63 percent of our students are English language learners,” said Pennisi. “So many of our families are close to the poverty line. That made it even more rewarding.”

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