Some questioned Lacey Township School District’s choice in returning to school a week after Hurricane Sandy struck the area. But the consensus from school administration is that returning provided a sense of “normalcy” and the opportunity for outreach.
Since the storm, school district staff and students have participated in numerous outreach projects to the community and their own—staff and students who had been displaced due to floodwaters.
Lacey Township High School
“It was really important to get back and open the schools,” Principal James Handschuch said.
The schools provided heat, food, counselors and peers to a community that had gone through a traumatic event, he said.
One student returned to school with a muffin in hand—his breakfast—and talked to Handschuch about his situation. With his mother away, he was taking care of the house without heat or electricity and handling JCP&L.
“He had some normalcy here,” Handschuch said. “Coming back that first day, I was amazed at the resiliency of students.”
And coming back to school enabled outreach with the school working closely with the Lacey Food Bank, Lacey United Methodist Church and St. Pius.
It started with Provide for the Pride, a telethon-like event to collect donations for organizations reaching out to those affected by the hurricane.
“I don’t know if you can even put a price on all we’ve collected,” he said. “Times like this do bring out the humane side of people.”
Six teachers in the high school were displaced so items—monetary, supplies and even gas for generators — were donated to them.
The day following the hurricane, two high school students and one middle school student went into the community to help families by cutting down and disposing of brush.
The Student Government Association and National Honor Society assisted in post-storm cleanup at Bicentennial Park in preparation for the Veteran’s Day ceremony. The SGA also actively collected donations for the food bank and will be running a free turkey dinner in January.
The Interact Club helped serve meals and sort clothes at the Methodist church and went out on volunteer crews to assist with cleanup and deliver meals to families.
“A lot of that would have never happened if we didn’t come back to school,” he said.
Lacey Middle School
The Builder’s Club has been actively collecting items for students and their families as well as staff members affected by Sandy, Advisor Pat Maniscalco said.
Food, clothing, furniture and household items were made available to families on the night of Nov. 20. Families were invited to the school to privately gather whatever they needed.
“We adopted seven families,” Maniscalco said.
One family that was displaced had already found a rental and was in need of furniture. Bedroom and kitchen sets were donated, she said.
“Everyone hugged. Some parents were crying. It was heartwarming to see just how everybody gave,” she said.
The school still has clothing and food items to donate to the Lacey Food Bank and organizations that need supplies.
Mill Pond School
Teachers and the Parent Teacher Association met to determine what sort of service projects to do upon returning to school, Principal Peter Kopack said.
A spaghetti dinner for families and community members was held on Nov. 6. Parents and businesses donated food. Many “to go” meals went out as well.
For about a week, the foyer of the school was utilized as a “Comfort Station” with bagels and coffee and the availability of recharging electronics.
Guidance counselors and teachers enacted collaborative learning to engage students on experiences and coping with the storm, Kopack said.
There were approximately 15 families affected at Mill Pond, he said. Guidance counselors met with those students to offer individualized help and also connected them with organizations that could assist.
“There’s been an enormous community response,” he said. “There will be continued support. This will be something that’s looked after.”
Lanoka Harbor School
Returning to schools, the first step was identifying families impacted, Principal Rosemarie Bond said. Then, the school asked for donations of canned goods and household supplies.
The Lacey Township Education Association purchased food and made bags for the project Lunches of Love. The bags included food such as bread, cereal, peanut butter and jelly and juice boxes and were delivered to approximately 80 families throughout the district.
At the Lanoka Harbor School seven families were completely displaced while others had damage to their homes but it was still habitable.
Home is Where the Heart Is also raised money for those seven families. Students brought a heart home with a note and for a donation, they could color it and have it hung up in the school.
The students returned around the time of Halloween. Costumes had been donated to the school and the front office was set up as a store. Many students didn’t have costumes due to the storm.
“The kids shopped for costumes,” Bond said.
On the counseling end, Elyse Winkle identified displaced students and communicated with them to deal with the trauma. Supplies were delivered to the families.
The goal was ensuring attendance to bring some normalcy back to the students, she said.
“They were all happy to be back,” she said.
“We’ll make sure our families are taken care of. It’s just what we do on a daily basis,” Bond said.
Forked River School
When the staff of the Forked River School returned, staff collaborated with the Parent Teacher Association to hold a movie night, an event that is typically held later in the year.
“The mission was for everyone to bring a non-perishable item,” teacher Kimberly Howcroft said.
Baskets with donated items from staff and businesses were raffled off and parents bought tickets, raising $1,000 for the Lacey Food Bank. One student who won a basket, donated the gift cards that were included for families in need, she said.
The Helping Hands Committee organized Thanksgiving baskets for families who typically need the help; approximately six out of 35 baskets were for families affected by the hurricane.
“The majority of families said they were ok, which is a good thing,” guidance counselor Becky Cataline said.
About 12 students had been displaced due to the storm, Principal Eric Fiedler said.
Over the course of the month since Sandy hit, parents and staff have made donations of clothing and supplies.
“The staff and parents were very generous,” Fiedler said.
The school also did Hearts for Hope; similar to the Lanoka Harbor School’s Home is Where the Heart Is. This project raised $1,900 for the food bank.
Cedar Creek School
Because most students at the Cedar Creek School are from the pines area and Forked River, not many were impacted to the extent of those living along the water, Principal Jackie Ranuska said.
One family was displaced but was well taken care of by family and friends, she said. There were six staff members facing housing issues.
The Sunshine and Lend a Hand Committees immediately came together with monetary donations from staff for staff, she said.
The usual Halloween Party for students was held as a Give Back Party. Students brought supplies and non-perishable items that would later be donated to the Methodist church. The foyer of the school had been packed with donations.
For Thanksgiving, meals were donated to five families who typically need the assistance or on top of that, had issues due to the storm.
The school raised $925 for Restore the Shore by staff purchasing Restore the Shore t-shirts and hoodies.
Moving forward, the Cedar Creek School will continue to give back with its holiday party by donating unwrapped toys to kids affected throughout the Jersey Shore. Instead of doing a staff gift exchange, $5 gift cards will be donated with the toys to families.
The Lend a Hand Committee will be starting a weekly Zumba session for staff where $5 will go to the instructor and $5 will go towards a fund for those impacted.
There will also be a Pampered Chef Catalog party to raise money for staff that was displaced.
“We have some staff commuting twice as far,” Ranuska said.
Collections will continue as the months go on.
“We’ll always look to who needs help,” she said.