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UFT.org Home > News > New York Teacher > Feature stories > School community to the rescue in Gravesend
Miller Photography When tragedy struck, members of one Brooklyn family found they could count on their school community.
On Dec. 16, 2017, a fire gutted the Pereyra family apartment in Gravesend, Brooklyn, leaving them with only the clothes on their backs. Three of the four children and both parents were sent to the hospital in critical condition.
Within hours, the staff and PTA of PS 212 — where Raquel, 9, and Robert, 8, are enrolled — were mobilizing a communitywide relief effort.
“You name it and we got it,” PTA President Randi Garay said.
Today, the two kids are back in school, and the family has relocated to another apartment —in the same housing complex — with clothes hanging in every closet, dishes lining the shelves in the fully equipped kitchen and new furniture in every room.
“When we think about why we are Public School Proud, this is the answer,” said PS 212 Chapter Leader Maria Belkadi. “We care deeply about the members of our school community.”
Garay realized the extent of the disaster when she arrived at the scene as firefighters brought the blaze under control. It didn’t matter that it was a weekend. She reached for her cellphone and called Belkadi, who set the massive aid campaign in motion.
Lists were made of sizes for everyone from 9-month-old Rita to mom and dad.
“We had the PTA, secretaries, paras and administrators collecting and driving carloads of clothes, electronics, dishes, cookware and Christmas presents to the family,” Belkadi said.
It was occupational therapists Daphne Zelaya and Naomi Stulman who scored the biggest hit. They asked Bob’s Discount Furniture store for mattresses and came away with furniture for the whole apartment.
“We have both worked with Raquel and Robert so it was important to us that we could help put their lives back together,” said Stulman.
The UFT sent counselors to the school on the Monday following the fire to support staff and help allay the fears of students who live in the same building and saw the fire unfold.
Staff at PS 212 told colleagues and pretty soon neighboring schools were helping out, too.
At the school’s annual Wishes for the World holiday celebration on Dec. 22, Lucia and Robert Pereyra, the parents, shed tears of gratitude and appreciation while staff and students shed tears of joy at having Richard and Raquel back safely.
“We’re so very grateful,” Lucia Pereyra said. “We never expected such help.”
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