When Amber missed her kindergarten class at PS 377 in Bushwick, Brooklyn, one day in September, her teacher Todd Marks became concerned. The news was filled with pictures of the devastation that torrential rains caused in the city in the wake of Hurricane Ida, and Bushwick was not spared. Marks, who is also the school’s chapter leader, knew the storm might have affected Amber and her 6-year-old brother, Noah, who was Marks’ student last year.
The teacher’s worst fears were realized when he called Crystal Rodriguez, the children’s mother. She told him their first-floor apartment had been flooded, ruining everything the family owned. Rodriguez sent pictures, and 4-year-old Amber used the ClassDojo platform she uses for classwork to send pictures of her own.
“We call her ‘Telemundo,’ because she reports everything,” Rodriguez said. “She can’t wait to tell the news.”
Amber was a thorough reporter, and Marks was shocked by the pictures. “There was mold everywhere, and they were waiting for the city to move them,” he said. “These are my babies, and I knew we had to do something for this family.”
He shared the family’s plight with his colleagues. “All the staff came together,” Marks said. Everyone gave what they could, from cash donations to clothing to household items.
Rodriguez described a string of losses she has endured since last year: a baby daughter was stillborn, three months later her husband died of complications from diabetes and then came the flood. She is grateful for the donations she has received to help her get back on her feet.
Thanks to friends and the school community, she has been able to replace some of the family’s belongings that were destroyed in the flood. And the city found them an apartment near the school.
“The school has helped me in a lot of ways,” Rodriguez said. “They brought toys, clothes, bed sheets and towels.”
Denise Urrutia, a 5th-grade teacher, donated money to the family. “To be a child and have to deal with this has to be horrific,” Urrutia said.
Marks bought towels, pillowcases and sheets. Linda Nieves, the school counselor, asked Marks to get the children’s clothing sizes. Then she and her mother, Nereida Valdes, a retired teacher, went shopping.
“We got them pajamas and school outfits,” Nieves said. For Amber, they bought “little girl outfits,” she said. “We saw ruffles, and how could we not?”
Nieves said the family’s new apartment was the best news of all. “They’re in a new place, not a shelter,” she said. “That’s the blessing.”