“I just wanted to say never give up,” writes a sixth-grader named Savannah who attends Clarendon Elementary School. The letter is one of many that were written by local students for Little Ferry families who suffered great losses as a result of Hurricane Sandy.
Fourth-grader Elaine writes, “I hope everything is okay. I am so sorry.”
Inside a green tree, one student quotes the wizard Albus Dumbledore from the “Harry Potter” series, “Happiness can be found in even the darkest of times, only if one remembers to turn on the light.”
In addition to the letters, school children, parents, teachers and school staff have helped send loads of books, clothing, toys, and household items to Little Ferry classrooms and families.
Huber Street Elementary School sent more than 20 cases of books for kindergarten and first grade classrooms, while Clarendon Elementary School sent families more than 20 boxes filled with food, plus toys, clothing, household items, and furniture in addition to a number of gift cards.
Helping fellow teachers
Huber Street Elementary School Principal Linda Wilhelm initiated the effort. She reached out to Huber Street Educator Sharon Holsten and Clarendon Educator Felicia Maloney to coordinate the drive at their schools respectively.
“We heard a lot of things about Little Ferry,” said Wilhelm in regard to the destruction and loss from Hurricane Sandy. “We have a couple teachers who live here. We have a grandparent of a child in one of the schools...I wanted to do something.”
Over 80 percent of buildings in Little Ferry were damaged, according to news reports. The storm’s tidal surge caused the Hackensack River to overflow and flood homes and buildings. The kindergarten and first grade classrooms in Washington School until recently were uninhabitable.
Holsten contacted Donna Doran in Little Ferry to figure out what type of donations would work best. Doran works for the Little Ferry Health Department and has been designated as the Humanitarian Aide.
Holsten, who teaches fourth grade at Huber, suggested to Doran getting the kindergarten and first grade teachers personal classroom materials – items that they would normally have purchased out of pocket to help grow their libraries or learning activities.
“That is what I would miss the most…if my personal children’s library was destroyed,” said Holsten. “It is very difficult to run a classroom without having things at your disposal and they lost everything.”
She sent out a letter to parents asking for a book donation per child and also sent a letter to teachers asking for contributions of puzzles, learning activities, and other educational materials.
The entire elementary school pitched in. School children brought in enough books to fill 20 cases.
“They were so generous,” said Holsten. “It really could happen anywhere, at any time. It could have very well been us,” noted Holsten.
Maloney teaches special education at Clarendon Elementary School. When Maloney spoke to Doran she learned about families who needed assistance.
“As we spoke…she began to tell me about the families,” said Maloney. “They had all been displaced.”
At the onset Clarendon adopted a family with three children: ages ten, seven, and seven months.
However, with each subsequent call to Doran, Maloney learned more about other families in need. When Maloney asked what the families needed, she was told, “everything.”
The entire school got involved including parents, teachers, and children.
Clarendon collected a variety of items including clothing, new toys, glasses, mugs, and other household items. They also gave a dining room set, a bedroom set, and three bicycles.
“At least the families have something to start with,” said Maloney.
For the family with the baby, the school secured a crib, highchair, and walker. One teacher bought each of the three children winter coats because they needed them immediately.
Other donated items included a comforter, bed sheets, pillowcases, stuffed animals, and books.
“People were very, very generous,” said Maloney.
Among the donations, the school also sent one mom a $300 gift card to use anywhere in addition to gift cards to local supermarkets and retail shops. One school staff member collected $1,000 among her family and friends for a hardware store gift card so that a family could purchase a washer and dryer.
In addition to the physical contributions, students have written letters and made holiday cards for Little Ferry families. Maloney said that they could open them on Christmas day.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at email@example.com.
Letter to Little Ferry
From Clarendon Elementary School student
I am really sorry that you lost your home. I hope you get your things back. I wish that the hurricane never happened. I am going to try to bring food and some other stuff to you.
Your friend Edison