When Superstorm Sandy slammed into the Far Rockaway neighborhood of Queens, New York, six months ago, storm waters rushed into the Challenge Preparatory Charter School. Shrimp, fish, and snakes swam in the lower-level kindergarten classrooms, including the one where Rosemarie Eshcevarria taught.
For days after the storm, Rosemarie walked through the community she grew up in. A kindergarten teacher, Mrs. E, as her students call her, checked in on families and let them know when school would resume.
“It [the school] was a place for these children to stay,” Rosemarie says. “It was food. It was shelter. It was just a sense of stability to have them back in the school.”
Stability after a disaster is often impossible for parents to provide when the lights are out, the heat is gone, or the home demolished. But schools and teachers can offer that sense of normalcy to students at least for a few hours each day.
Superstorm Sandy struck Far Rockaway especially hard. Located on a peninsula, waters from both the bay and ocean rose up and engulfed the town, leaving devastation and heartbreak. Residents were without power and heat for nearly three weeks.
Art teacher Malissa Walker’s classroom fared only slightly better as the flood waters inched up as high as her first-floor classroom.
She threw away 300 children’s books she had accumulated during her years of teaching.
“We didn’t cry,” she says. “We were close a couple of times.” As she threw away craft projects, she reminded herself that it could be worse.
“We weren’t the kindergarten, who had to literally throw away everything.”
The teachers faced a challenge: How would they restock and resupply their classrooms? How would they restore a sense of hope to their students?
Far Rockaway is not a wealthy community. According to the U.S. Census, 25 percent of residents live below the poverty line, compared to 15 percent for the rest of the state; 77 percent of the students subscribe to the free lunch program.
“When we’re going out buying supplies, to not have to ask parents for something so little as paper [or] pencils -- to them that’s the world,” says Malissa. “That’s an extra $20 that’s putting food on their plate.”
Many teachers understand that struggle. They live in the community and were facing their own hardship. Normally, teachers spend hundreds of their own dollars to help with classroom supplies, but emergency expenses left Rosemarie without extra money to spend on her students.
Rosemarie says that teachers had to stretch what they had. They drew lines on copy paper and photocopied it for the students to use. They considered doing group projects so students could share resources.
Then, just days after reopening the school, they learned that World Vision was bringing its mobile Teacher Resource Center (TRC) -- a trailer filled with shelves of school supplies -- to their school.
“They gave us these huge bags that we got to fill up,” says Malissa. “We were ecstatic! We were all smiling ear to ear, going out to fill our bags with things we really needed.”
“It was Christmas,” Rosemarie says. “You can’t work without your tools; you don’t have pencils and paper, you can’t work. A construction worker can’t nail if he doesn’t have his hammer. So that’s what the paper and pencil is for us.”
The first time the mobile TRC visited the school, World Vision’s Jacqueline Collier told Malissa that she would see her again. She explained that World Vision doesn’t just come in for a short time following disasters.
“You guys are still here several months later,” says Malissa. “You’re here for the long run. [That is] important to know.”
World Vision will continue to provide relief support to survivors of Superstorm Sandy through December 2013.
In late February, World Vision paid another visit to the school, bringing shoes, toys, and games for the students. Malissa says that for children who lost everything, the importance of a toy can’t be overestimated.
“Just that extra toy that they get to bring home and play with brings a little normalcy back home,” she says.
Rosemarie says World Vision’s support for the school is important. “It gives us the platform to do what we love to do. It gives us the opportunity to continue to do what these children need us to do. It enables us to be good teachers. It’s that extra push.”
As the schools provide that important sense of normalcy to children struggling with the aftermath of Sandy, World Vision and its donors stand behind the teachers and school administrators to provide them with an extra hand up.
“We couldn’t thank them enough," Malissa says. "Without those supplies, we would still be struggling.”
When disaster strikes right here in the United States, World Vision is often one of the first organizations to respond, already positioned and equipped to provide American families with vital supplies and support in the aftermath. Our relief workers connect with local partners in affected regions to help hard-hit communities.
Make a one-time donation to our U.S. Disaster Response Fund. Your gift will help us respond quickly and effectively to emergencies right here in the United States, like Superstorm Sandy.
You can also make a donation to help provide school supplies to U.S. students. Many schools serving low-income neighborhoods right here in the United States are in great need of basic supplies. Help deliver books, videos, pens, pencils, crayons, educational games, sports equipment, and more. Thanks to corporate donations, your gift will be worth 10 times in impact!
Want to find out more ways you can be involved with our work here in the United States? Check out our U.S. programs site for more information!