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Chapter Leader Austin Perilli marvels at how quickly everything came together for a hurricane relief fundraiser at PS 170 in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
“We had one week’s planning time” before the Oct. 5 event, Perilli said. In that brief period, he and other staff members pulled together an entertainment-filled night that drew more than 200 members of the school community and raised $6,500 for the victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
In the school auditorium, the group hosted a lip-synch battle between teams of teachers, a parent bake sale and a community-sponsored raffle with prizes including jewelry, pocketbooks, food items and gift certificates to restaurants and nail salons.
PS 170 was not alone. With hurricane season especially brutal this year, schools around the city stepped up to raise money and collect much-needed supplies for victims in Texas, Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
Disturbed by the photos posted on Facebook by an old high school friend now living in San Juan, Holly Lauretta, a paraprofessional at the District 20 Pre-K Center at Bay 11th in Bath Beach, Brooklyn, began collecting donations for Puerto Rico, first from colleagues who helped her fill an empty box she brought to school and then from the broader school community. Before she knew it, she had collected 11 boxes of critical supplies and $650 in cash from staff and parents.
“I was amazed at the outpouring of generosity,” said Lauretta, who is shipping the supplies to her friend to hand out. “A lot of our families don’t have a lot of money, but parents were giving $20, $30 and $50 apiece.”
At Port Richmond HS on Staten Island, English teacher Kerry Spillane said former principal Timothy Gannon helped spark a boroughwide effort to collect backpacks filled with school supplies for the students of Texas affected by Hurricane Irma. The UFT’s Staten Island borough office was one of the drop-off points for donations.
At JHS 167 on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, boxes were set up in the lobby to collect water, flashlights and batteries for Puerto Rico. “We have a very generous school community,” said Alison Schwenzer, a school counselor who helped organize the effort.
District 30 in northwestern Queens, in a collaborative effort involving the UFT, the principals’ union and parent groups, has adopted Elpidio H. Rivera Middle School in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. The district has begun to collect both school items and essential supplies to send to members of that school community.
“The idea came from one of our parents, who contacted the parent association and said the school in Mayaguez needed help,” said Sandy Rodriguez, the chapter leader at PS 151 in Woodside, Queens. “It’s a nice idea — our schools helping a school — and we know the supplies are going to families and children.”
The Mayaguez principal called Rodriguez on Oct. 23 to let her know the school, closed since Hurricane Maria struck on Sept. 7, was reopening, albeit without electricity. “Even though the school is intermediate, they will house elementary school students, too, because they can’t return to their school,” Rodriguez said.
Students at Epic HS in South Ozone Park, Queens, got the ball rolling to help the island of Tortola, the most populous island in the British Virgin Islands, which was leveled by Hurricane Irma. Parent coordinator Natalie Simon said her office was the drop-off point for canned goods, school supplies and clothing.
In the Bronx, teacher Maribeth Whitehouse at JHS 98 near Crotona Park has made fundraising part of the enrichment period, when students regularly perform service projects.
“Students did research on Puerto Rico, created a fact sheet, signs and decorated buckets with the Puerto Rican flag,” Whitehouse said.
The students collected coins from passersby near the school. “We practiced how to approach people and be gracious when they don’t stop,” she said. Eighth-graders ran the operation, but 6th- and 7th-graders helped out, carrying signs and thank-you cookies for donors, she said.
About $500 had been raised in quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies by Oct. 17, but Whitehouse expected that number to rise to $1,000 by the end of the month after matching contributions from the principal and teachers.
Whitehouse had students write about the experience.
“One of my students wrote that he learned ‘even when the government does nothing, we the people can still do something,’” she said.
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