These three along with several other members of the Windmill Alliance Center reached into their pockets to give what little they had as part of a concerted effort with Community Pre-School Playgroup Inc. to help a special school that was stricken by flood waters and other problems associated with two hurricanes earlier this year.
"This came out of their pockets," said Bali Macchio, Windmill program director. "They didn't have a lot. But they wanted to give something.
Windmill Alliance Center has been operating in Bayonne for about 20 years, and Macchio said the members wanted to help a school that was just like their own. They enlisted the help the nearby Community Pre-School Playgroup, a mainstream preschool, where a concerted effort had generated two shipments of backpacks and other goods. The cash donation from Windmill members and the goods from the playgroup were sent to St. Michael's Special School for the Exceptional's Joy Center, where they were distributed among the St. Michael student and adult population.
St. Michael's School is a division of a Catholic school in the Archdiocese of New Orleans designed to help children with major learning difficulties achieve success that they may not otherwise be able to achieve in mainstream schools; it educates students through the age of 21. The Joy Center is a resource for the special-needs adult population.
While members of Windmill Center, a resource for learning disabled adults, felt a kinship with the special-needs school and adult resource center they donated to, the Community Pre-School Playgroup, a mainstream school, felt a kinship with the New Orleans' school's younger members.
For about two months since Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, students, teachers and other members at the playgroup in Bayonne gathered materials to send.
The three-year-old students of the playgroup called the pile of goods that sat in their classroom over the last several weeks "the mountain," and though it contained items they would have liked to have played with - crayons and other things - each student knew these things needed to be saved for the people who "had too much water."
Carmella DeSimone, director of the playgroup, said that when students at St. Michael's Special School for the Exceptional in New Orleans arrived to class on Monday, Dec. 5, they had a pleasant surprise waiting. "We told them to say that Santa Claus had come early," she said.
The playgroup is a not-for-profit organization that gets no city, state or federal money so they had to get the goods by asking people and businesses to help.
DeSimone, who has been teaching at the center since the beginning and is now in her 32nd year there, said even the three-year-old students in her class understood the urgency, having followed some of the reports of the aftermath of the Katrina disaster. The students, for instance, knew that the roof of the school there leaked and that rainwater came inside.
This is the second shipment the Bayonne-based school has sent to a school in New Orleans. The first time they sent 80 backpacks.
But the shipment that arrived this week weighed 4,500 pounds and contained backpacks and a lot more.
Everybody was involved, DeSimone said.
"When I heard that it was an inner-city school and very poor, I was very moved," she said.
Teachers and staff at the New Orleans school bent over backwards to make certain the school remained operational, taking reduced salaries.
The Bayonne school insisted on helping to send those things that would also help the New Orleans students, and the items they collected varied widely, from Playdough to flags.
Money has been an issue locally since the Bayonne school is hardly wealthy, and while the school got a deal for shipping the first 80 backpacks, DeSimone said divine providence seems to have shined down upon them when shipping the second much more substantial shipment, which included more than 300 backpacks as well as other items.
A firm that frequently deals with shipments worked out a good deal for the cost of shipping the goods, then paid the bill.
"They wouldn't even tell us how much it costs," DeSimone said.
"Backpacks of New Jersey" supplied 200 packs to the school, and the three year olds in the class not only helped pack the items, but also got the goods to go in each one of them such as crayons and markers and other things that the students at the distant school would need.
DeSimone visited countless stores asking for help. Many didn't help, but many did, such as Target and Pathmark. Help came from public schools in Bayonne, too.
A very philosophical DeSimone said someone once told her that the world moves on, and she knows that many people aren't hearing a lot of news out of New Orleans these days.
"But they have it hard there, and they need our help," she said.
DeSimone recalled the impact that the attacks of 9/11 had on her class - one student lost a parent in the tragedy. Now she said the situation is being felt down in New Orleans and each time she hears reports from the place, she knows she had to do something to help.
"This has taken up two months of my life," DeSimone said
One of the amazing moments that seem to be part of some divine plan came when she was calling around for help with the shipment and came upon DJ Big Joe Henry of 101.5 FM who is taking a show to New Orleans.
He promised to make the school there his first stop and through yet more generosity through local support, the Marriott hotel in the area has donated space for the show and for the kids and adults of St. Michael's School and Joy Center.
While DeSimone discovered many people who did not wish to help her cause, each time someone closed a door on her effort, another door opened with another example of incredible generosity.
Contact Al Sullivan at email@example.com