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If tragic events teach us anything, it's that everyone bands together in trying times and Portage County is no exception.
While across the United States, municipalities have been lending safety forces and electrical company support, students, staff and families across Portage County have been collecting items and money to help with relief efforts from the destruction caused by hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Schools have taken on a variety of projects including canned food drives, school supply drives, hat days, jeans days among other efforts to help those impacted by the storms.
Craddock and Miller elementary schools in Aurora, have been collecting supplies for Helms Elementary School in Houston. Tami Mazzella, school counselor for Miller and Craddock, said there was interest in doing something to help those in Texas and Florida but she wanted to be certain the schools collected what was actually needed.
"I did not want to collect items and let them sit in a warehouse and not be able to be used," Mazzella said. "I was on Facebook and found where you could adopt a school so we paired up with Helms and contacted the principal about what was actually needed."
She said luckily, when the storm hit, school was not yet in session and most items were still in storage. The primary needs were composition notebooks, which have to be purchased from a specialty education store, and some other general supplies. Because the primary composition notebooks are not readily available to the public, Mazzella said the staff decided to do a jeans day and use the donations to purchase the notebooks, while students could bring in the other items such as folders, scissors, crayons, markers, glue sticks, and bulletin board supplies borders, characters, letters, decorations and calendar pieces.
"We see this as a great opportunity to promote conversations with our students about helping others, acts of kindness and being kind," she said.
In Texas, Helms Elementary School Principal Dolores Perejn-Lasheras said knowing the schools in Ohio are holding the supply drive "means a lot."
"It's heartbreaking to see how when we were ready to begin the school year, with the nice smell of brand new school supplies then they got lost with the flood or damaged, and a lot of our families after the hurricane they could not afford to buy them again," she said. "School supplies was our biggest need and having the schools have this drive and help our students get back in their routines and their school life will help us leave behind the damage the hurricane did."
Harmon Middle School did a staff collection and used matching funds from Walmart to raise $1,350 for the Houston Red Cross while service learning students at the high school have been working to organize a collection of needed items. High School Principal Dr. Paul Milcetich said a male staff bake sale is also being planned.
"We plan to split the funds and items between the Houston area and Florida relief efforts," Milcetich said.
Like Aurora, Southeast Primary and Intermediate schools adopted a middle school in Texas. Megan Gray, a school counseling intern, organized the effort also after seeing a Facebook post about helping the schools hit by Hurricane Harvey. After some research, the Southeast schools adopted Dunbar Middle School in Dickinson, Texas. The city of Dickinson endured almost 44 inches of rain, putting it in the top 10 in terms of Texas city rainfall totals from the storm, according to Cathy Buck, school counselor in Southeast. As a way to provide some help with supplies, the Southeast K-5 building will be collecting gift cards to Walmart, Target, or Amazon in any denomination.These gift cards will be sent to the school and then dispersed to allow the staff, students, and families in the community of Dickinson to buy what immediate items they may need.
In addition to helping the Texas school, Gray will be teaching lessons to third-, fourth- and fifth-graders about the how and why of helping others in times of great need.
"While they have been slowly getting back to their normal routine, there is much work to be done in the community to repair the damage caused by the flood waters," Buck said.
Crestwood Middle and Intermediate schools have partnered with Salvation Army to collect specific food and cleaning items such as granola bars, snack items, canned goods ready to eat with pull tops, peanut butter, toothbrushes, toothpaste, other hygiene items and bleach and other cleaning supplies. Counselor Lynne Morrison said to sweeten the pot, the homerooms at each grade level who collect the most will be rewarded with doughnuts. The schools will be collecting during the first week of October and the efforts are being spearheaded by the Leadership Challenges students.
Another partnership for relief efforts, has formed between Field Local Schools and the United Methodist Conference. Karen Upson, of UMC, partnered with the district to use the central school building (the former kindergarten building) to house supplies as they collect items such as liquid household cleaner, dish soap, insect repellant, scrub brushes, scour pads, work gloves, nail clippers, toothbrushes, band aids and other items to fill five gallon buckets with cleaning supplies and health kits. Upson said she and her husband, Don, are running collection center Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will be seeking students to help fill the buckets and package the items to be sent to a UMC distribution center to go to Florida, Texas or wherever they are most needed.
"Students of any age can come help pack the items and we hope community members will come help as well," Upson said.
The effort is open-ended for now, as she explained she and her husband have assisted with disaster relief before and cleanup can take a long time. For a full list of items they are collecting or for more information visit eocumc.org or email the Upsons at email@example.com.
James A. Garfield Elementary is also collecting school supplies to send to Texas. The elementary school has a collection bin outside of the school office, according to a spokesperson for the Parent Teacher Organization. The PTO is spearheading the drive and while they have not determined how the supplies will get to those in need, the organization has decided to send items to Texas flood victims.
St. Patrick School staff and students in Kent, held a "Dress Down Day" and raised $1,500 for hurricane relief efforts. The money will go to the Catholic Relief Fund who will disperse the funds through the organization. Lucy Zaynor, media specialist for the school, said dress down days are popular amongst students.
"In a school where students are required to wear a uniform every day, a 'Dress Down' day is a fun day to look forward to," she said adding some students wore Cleveland Indians' gear while a third-grade class coordinated their wardrobe and wore unicorn shirts.
While Streetsboro students aren't required to wear uniforms, they aren't typically permitted to wear hats in school, except when it's for a good cause, which is just one of the ways they raised funds for hurricane victims both in Florida and Texas. Students wore "Hats for Hurricane Relief" Sept. 15 and raised more than $200 to be donated to the Red Cross, according to Ira Campbell, high school counselor. Students in Actively Caring for People are making cards as well for students at the schools.
Additionally, Actively Caring 4 People, BETA and student Council Clubs are all sponsoring a school supply donation drive collecting school supplies through the end of September. Campbell said the idea came about from student and is a way for them to connect with students who have gone through the tragedy.
"While these are little actions, every little bit can help and we just wanted to do our part to care for those who are dealing with such a difficult situation," Campbell said.
Willyard Elementary in Ravenna also held a hat day to raise money for those in Texas affected by Hurricane Harvey raising more than $220. Those funds will be donated to Houston Astros Hurricane Relief Fund. The school scheduled a second hat day for Sept. 22 with the $178 raised going to Florida residents affected by Hurricane Irma, via the Miami Heat Charitable Fund. Principal Joe Kuzior said fifth-grade teacher Kandis Torch came up with the idea, and organized and handled the fundraiser.