Kids Helping Vermont Rebuild

From the Milton Independent

Besides a few downed tress, some renewed stress on roads and a lot of rain, northern Chittenden and Franklin counties were largely unscathed by Tropical Storm Irene when it inundated Vermont in August.

But Milton and Georgia students weren’t blind to the destruction of their home state; they have raised money and conducted food drives to help their southern neighbors start to recover.

Fifty-eight Georgia first-graders started a Flood of Coins in the week after Irene and raised $750 for the Vermont Red Cross, teacher Joan Nye said. The students brought in their pocket change and raised $479.30 between September 5 and 9, and an anonymous donor who was inspired by the young students’ effort topped the donation off, Nye said.

First-grade teacher Shelle Myers brought the coins to North Country Credit Union in Colchester, which cut the check to the Red Cross earmarked for Irene recovery without any fees, she said.

“I dragged it in, and it took me a half-hour to count out the money – it was handful after handful of pennies,” Myers said. “The kids were really proud, because it was their change or their coins.”

Because the storm happened right before school started – Georgia actually postponed the school year one day because of Irene – it was on students’ minds.

Many had seen images on TV, and some had family whose homes and roads were drenched, Nye said.

Myers’ husband, Chief Warrant Officer David Myers, bandmaster for the Vermont National Guard, and Todd Granger, facilities director for Franklin West Supervisory Union, were both activated with the Guard as the rains poured on August 28.

Students knew their teacher’s husband and one of their school custodians were on the frontline of the recovery effort for the first two weeks.

“We have to realize that Vermonters came together and worked on our own problem this time,” Myers said.

The four first-grade teachers in Georgia – Nye, Myers, Melanie Dattilio and Allison MacKenzie – try to incorporate community service into their curriculum each year, and Irene provided a good opportunity.

“We try to teach them to think beyond themselves,” Myers said. “This is a real gimme culture. It should be a give-you culture.”

Georgia fourth-grader Marcus Aloisi collected school supplies for affected students and brought the donation down to Moretown Elementary School on Tuesday with his mother, said his teacher, Karen Garrett.

Post-Irene, Marcus and his mother, Bonnie, volunteered in Duxbury.

“It was quite enlightening for him to see the devastation and to see what his efforts were helping with,” Bonnie Aloisi said.

Marcus knew the Moretown school was closed, so he set up a meeting with K-4 Principal Steve Emery to pitch his idea, and together, they typed up a flyer to go home with students, Garrett said.

Marcus put a donation box outside Garrett’s classroom and ended up with hundreds of supplies as well as $55, which he plans to donate to a clearinghouse in the Moretown community earmarked for the holidays, his mother said.

In planning Marcus’ donation, classes at Georgia Elementary and Moretown decided they would be pen pals, Garrett said. Marcus brought down Georgia’s first batch of letters to Moretown along with the school supplies, she said.

Milton Elementary School math interventionist Kendra Gorton hails from Clarendon, a town outside Rutland. She said her family was isolated for several hours after the storm subsided.

“When they finally could, they just called and talked about the devastation and how unbelievable and how much water there was,” she said. “We had no idea up here what the devastation was like … I just thought it was unbelievable, so close to home. I just felt like they had an immediate need.”

Gorton checked the website Restoring Rutland, established to notify people of residents’ needs, and started what she called a “Fill My Van” campaign, asking Facebook friends and co-workers to load her vehicle with supplies.

“It was my personal vehicle, my personal way – I felt like I had to give back to that community I grew up in,” Gorton said.

Two weeks after the storm, Gorton and her daughter drove her van, full of bleach, masks, gloves, canned food and bottled water, to the Restoring Rutland donation center.

MES is also hosting a food drive; any donations will go to the Vermont Foodbank earmarked for Irene recovery, sixth-grade teacher Amy Johnson said.

So far, the box in her room is full of canned goods, juice and diapers – some of the high-priority items listed on the Foodbank’s website, she said.

Tom Abbiati, food resource director at the Vermont Foodbank, said more than a month after the storm, there is immense need in Irene-affected areas, especially Rutland, Manchester, Wilmington and Bennington.

“[The Federal Emergency Management Agency] has started to pull out; selectmen in Bethel just shut down their disaster relief center in City Hall,” he said. “There are still people who don’t have homes, who have nowhere to turn.”

If people want to hold a food drive for an area affected by Irene, the Foodbank will ensure the donation gets to an earmarked area. Communities that weren’t as badly affected by the storm, like Milton and Georgia, have food needs, too, and Abbiati encourages people to think of their own communities first.

“This is a statewide disaster,” Abbiati said. “If you weren’t affected [by the flooding], you’re being indirectly affected by the amount of food that’s available.”

A schoolwide food drive, organized by Milton High School senior Kasandra Lusignan, for the Milton Family Community Center, just ended. The drive was in response to the center’s plea for more food, said Lynne Manley, an MHS English teacher and the school’s service learning coordinator.

When Manley dropped off the collection on Friday, MFCC’s shelves were completely empty.

“While I was still [at MFCC] people came in and took what I had brought,” Manley said. “There was soy sauce and other condiments, but that’s about it.”

Manley and family and consumer science teacher Joanne Davidman are starting an extracurricular service learning group at the school this Thursday; Tropical Storm Irene relief is on the agenda for the first meeting, Manley said.

Students will research needs within Vermont, which will determine what projects they undertake this year, she said.

All MHS students must complete 30 hours of community service before graduating; this club will be another avenue for service, Manley said.

“Students like to be together. This group might help the students who might not have resources to drive somewhere, and also have more support,” she said.

In a small state like Vermont, a large-scale natural disaster like Tropical Storm Irene really does affect everyone.

“That’s what brought it home to our students,” Shelle Myers said. “A lot of things that happen in the world is so far away and this wasn’t – it was within their world.”

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