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Social media, technology help spur giving, educate local students about Sandy

  • Lander Grinspoon Academy fifth-grader Navan Chevan consolidates donated items for storm relief into a van bound for New York City on Friday. Northampton resident Sherisse Viray, who has no connections to the school, responded to a Facebook post by students at the Academy that was forwarded to her and collected the items from Stop and Shop, Big Y and River Valley Market. <br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Lander Grinspoon Academy fifth-grader Navan Chevan consolidates donated items for storm relief into a van bound for New York City on Friday. Northampton resident Sherisse Viray, who has no connections to the school, responded to a Facebook post by students at the Academy that was forwarded to her and collected the items from Stop and Shop, Big Y and River Valley Market.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Lander Grinspoon Academy fifth-graders, from left, Navan Chevan, Sunrise Mager, Cory Zagorin,  Nikki Foster and Aleza Falk, load donated items for storm relief into a van bound for New York City on Friday. Northampton resident Sherisse Viray, who has no connections to the school, responded to a Facebook post by students at the Academy that was forwarded to her and collected the items from Stop and Shop, Big Y and River Valley Market. <br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Lander Grinspoon Academy fifth-graders, from left, Navan Chevan, Sunrise Mager, Cory Zagorin, Nikki Foster and Aleza Falk, load donated items for storm relief into a van bound for New York City on Friday. Northampton resident Sherisse Viray, who has no connections to the school, responded to a Facebook post by students at the Academy that was forwarded to her and collected the items from Stop and Shop, Big Y and River Valley Market.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Lander Grinspoon Academy fifth-grader Navan Chevan consolidates donated items for storm relief into a van bound for New York City on Friday. Northampton resident Sherisse Viray, who has no connections to the school, responded to a Facebook post by students at the Academy that was forwarded to her and collected the items from Stop and Shop, Big Y and River Valley Market. <br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Lander Grinspoon Academy fifth-graders, from left, Navan Chevan, Sunrise Mager, Cory Zagorin,  Nikki Foster and Aleza Falk, load donated items for storm relief into a van bound for New York City on Friday. Northampton resident Sherisse Viray, who has no connections to the school, responded to a Facebook post by students at the Academy that was forwarded to her and collected the items from Stop and Shop, Big Y and River Valley Market. <br/>KEVIN GUTTING

In spite of that, when she got wind through a friend’s Facebook post that the school, located on Prospect Street in Northampton, was collecting donations for relief efforts for those affected by superstorm Sandy, she took it upon herself to solicit local businesses for supplies and deliver them to the school.

Those donations, along with enought other emergency supplies to fill a van are being ferried to New York City this weekend by Cindy Kassel, an LGA teacher.

Viray said she’s originally from northern New Jersey and still has family and friends in that area who are still recovering from the beating Sandy delivered last week.

She said when she saw the post she decided she need to do something to help, so contacted as many businesses as she could to see if they’d be willing to donate appropriate goods to the school’s relief effort.

Stores including Big Y and River Valley Market in Northampton and Stop & Shop in Hadley donated bottled water and canned and dry goods to try to provide some relief to storm victims.

In addition to soliciting, collecting and delivering the donations, Viray said she’s leaving this weekend to assist with cleanup and repair efforts along the Jersey coast.

“I needed to do something,” she said.

That urgency to help is something the faculty at LGA hopes to instill in students, said executive director Linda Minoff.

Following Sandy’s departure from the area, teachers spoke with students to answer their questions and help them process such a massive event.

Some of the younger students expressed mild disappointment that the storm didn’t stay longer or put on a more spectacular show in the Pioneer Valley, others were concerned about family or loved ones who were in the worst of the storm’s path.

Ann Armon, an who teaches first and second grade at the academy, a private Jewish day school, thought hearing directly from storm victims the students could relate to would be the best way to enlighten them.

Armon, who has family in Manhattan, arranged to have her two nieces, Cassie, 16, and Libby, 14, speak to the students via a Skype connection (power and Internet service had been restored to their area by then). The teens answered their questions and told them how they’d had to adjust after the storm.

“Kids are always engaged and interested,” Minoff said. She noted that an opportunity for children to speak with someone with direct experience of something helps make it more real to them than some abstraction seen on television.

Some of the questions were of practical matters (how did they flush their toilets?) some about the amount of damage in their neighborhood, and at least one student wondered if the girls could, or would have liked to, swim in the floodwaters left in Sandy’s wake.

The last and perhaps the most important question the students asked was, “What can we do to help?”

That type of effort to assist those in need is something the school makes efforts to do all year long, Armon said, introducing the Judaic concept of “tikkun olam,” which translates to “repairing the world.”

That’s when the call for donations went throughout the school and beyond its walls as requests for items began appearing online.

Staples like batteries, flashlights, warm clothes, water, canned goods and so on began arriving, as well as personal notes and cards from some of the students.

One of those, from a third-grader, contained a blank section for the recipient to draw and color on “in case they get bored,” Armon said.

This most recent donation drive won’t affect the school’s other charitable works, including the winter coat drive, which is still going ahead as scheduled, Minoff said.

Armon said the hope is the students learn that individual acts of kindness or assistance can have a chain-reaction effect that goes well beyond the original deed.

“We’re all in this together,” she said.

Another effort

Meanwhile, another local relief effort is accepting donations until Monday.

UMass Transit Services has organized a “Fill-a-Bus” campaign and is collecting toiletries and personal care items that are quickly running out.

Items like soap, toothpaste, toilet paper, diapers, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, tissues and deodorant are in high demand for both storm victims and the relief workers who are lending assistance.

“These are our friends and family in need of help,” said UMass Transit spokeswoman Katie O’Hara in a prepared statement. “We’re hoping the community can come together and help ease some of the stress they’re experiencing.

The final collection will be delivered to New York with a truck donated by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, according to UMass Transit.

Donation sites are set up around the Amherst and Hadley areas, and precise locations can be found at www.umass.edu/bus, or on UMass Transit’s Facebook page or Twitter account, @umasstransit.

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