MS 57 Chapter Leader Nicole Smith’s idea to help 47 young Bahamian college students, driven from their homes by Hurricane Dorian in September, quickly morphed into a community effort.
While their attendance at Smith’s alma mater, Hampton University in Virginia, comes with free tuition, room, board and books, the college students — who left the Bahamas with little more than the clothes on their backs — still need a lot to get back to normal lives and their studies.
The UFT Disaster Relief Fund and the national and New York State chapters of the AFT Black Caucus, spearheaded by national chair Camille Eaddy and state chair Wendy Walker-Wilson, stepped up to help, as did public schools around the city. Smith, at her school in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, got the ball rolling. Soon warm clothes, gift cards, personal hygiene products and other items were pouring in and being collected in all five boroughs. Teachers around the city conducted class fundraisers, and 20 boxes of donations came in from the UFT’s Bronx borough office.
“I am absolutely in awe at the response and support we got,” Smith said. “The idea took off like wildfire. People seemed to be thinking, ‘I don’t have a lot, but I have more than they do.’”
At PS 133 in Manhattan, it wasn’t long after Chapter Leader Kelvin Almonte put fliers in mailboxes that items began to come in from teachers, students and parents.
“I was glad to see people taking their time, effort and money to help others,” he said. “And I’m glad my district took on this phenomenal initiative.”
With the help of Sabrina Coppedge, the PS 133 paraprofessional representative, Almonte carried 10 bags full of toothpaste and toothbrushes, soaps, body wash and other toiletries to the Manhattan borough collection center at CS 154.
Smith said gift cards were mailed, and a truckload of donated items was delivered to the college students on Nov. 18.
“We haven’t put a dollar figure on the total donations,” she said, “but it is a lot.”
Coppedge cites Oprah Winfrey in summing up her feelings: “Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.”