Sharing the warmth: From Minnesota to New York
Plymouth Middle School sends handmade blankets to Superstorm Sandy victims
By Brian Rosemeyer
Sun Sailor Newspapers
Three months after superstorm Sandy tore across the northeastern U.S. Oct. 25, 2012, homes and businesses continue to be in the rebuilding process.
Struggles continue as victims find themselves with little heat and dwindling resources.
Plymouth Middle School teacher Misty Maruska and her sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade Family and Consumer Science classes are stepping up to help.
This school year marked the first time in recent years that all three grade levels at Plymouth Middle School would be sewing blankets.
Traditionally, sixth-graders would sew lap blankets and donate them to senior living facilities in the community.
Maruska saw the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy and resolved to offer the impacted area a donation of the blankets produced by her class.
“I did some research on the Internet, and I knew that the area was heavily hit and was lower income,” said Maruska. “I just kind of put it out there to students and asked what they thought about the idea.”
The students were on board, and Maruska reached out to the New York City Department of Education, where her donation was matched with the Bays Water School in the Far Rockaway neighborhood of Queens, New York City.
“I showed my children a slide show of pictures from that area,” said Maruska. “That area also had a plane crash in its neighborhood in 2001, and the area lost 29 of its firefighters in 9/11.”
Around 210 students were working in groups of four or five to sew the blankets for the school children whose lives were impacted by the storm.
Katie Grady, Principal of the Bays Water School, described the extent of damage left by Sandy to the school and its families.
“One in three teachers were displaced from their homes and 80 percent of staff suffered damage to their homes in one form or another including oil spills, sewage seepage, foundations compromised, roofs blown off,” Grady said. “Many families lost all their belongings either to flood or fire. Little by little, the school buildings were slowly repaired. Education is moving forward, but our children are still feeling the effects.”
The Bays Water School enrolls children pre-K to fifth grade. Principal Grady said that many families have had to relocate out of the area because their homes remain unlivable.
“As a result, our school lost approximately 80 students from our school register, shrinking [enrollment] from 650 to 570,” she said.
She continued to say that, due to poor transportation and loss of businesses, many of the area families have lost employment and there are still families living without electricity and heat.
The blankets made for the Bays Water School will be given to the youngest students.
“These are for little kids — 3- and 4-years-old. So the blankets are going to be more of a security to them,” Maruska said. “They don’t have anything; they’ve lost everything. So giving these will provide them something of their own.”
Plymouth Middle School students began working on the blankets in early November 2012, and worked hard throughout the semester.
“We did quilts with 24 squares and each group picked colors they had to match and a design to agree on,” Maruska said. “Then they each sewed a row and put padding on the inside with a plain back. The students did a wonderful job, I’m so happy.”
Maruska’s classes sent between 40 and 50 handmade blankets to the Bays Water School on Jan. 28.
Of the many donations the Bays Water School has received since the devastation, Principal Grady said the blankets are among the most thoughtful.
“This donation is one of the most heart-warming donations that we received,” Grady said. “These blankets were made by children for children. To be recipients of these blankets and so many other donations clarifies for us that in life there are times where we are the givers, and other times we are the receivers. This is why it is important for children to learn that one small act of kindness can make a difference in the lives of others.”
Plymouth Middle School pencils were sent along with the blankets as well as a PowerPoint presentation Maruska made with information about Minnesota and pictures of her classes making the blankets.
Maruska said the reaction from the Bays Water School has been remarkable.
“I just feel like they are so thankful and so gracious,” she said. “I can’t even express how thankful they were for this small donation. It’s been so positive.”
Grady confirmed that graciousness and said that something as small as a blanket can carry significant meaning in the lives of the young victims of the storm.
“All of our students lived without heat, electricity and running water for months,” said Grady. “For our students, a blanket represents warmth, security, closeness and care. We noticed that, due to having lived without the basic essentials of heat and electricity during the winter months, many of our students are much more vulnerable to the cold. The gift of these blankets from the middle school in Plymouth is both needed and timely.”
Maruska also said she is proud of the work her students have done, and the generosity they displayed in helping total strangers, hundreds of miles away in their time of need.
“It’s been awesome,” she added. “Seeing them create these, and them knowing what they were for, it’s an awesome feeling. It’s definitely something I want to continue.”
Maruska hopes to send something for the teachers of the school in the future. She said their positivity and strength were truly wonderful.
Grady said that she was displaced from her home in Breezy Point, N.Y., and will not be able to return for another year or more due to flooding. She said the thoughtfulness, compassion and kindness of others keep her spirits up and enable her to be supportive to her students, families and staff.
“Words cannot fully express our deep gratitude for all these students have done,” said Grady. “Know that these blankets may warm my students, but the generosity of time, spirit and energy of Misty and her students has warmed my heart. God bless you all.”
Contact Brian Rosemeyer at email@example.com