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Freeport aids Freeport: Maine students coordinate post-Sandy relief for N.Y. school

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Freeport aids Freeport: Maine students coordinate post-Sandy relief for N.Y. school

FREEPORT — A local high school student is leading a drive to deliver new school supplies to students in Freeport, N.Y., where a school was closed due to damage from Hurricane Sandy last month.

Senior Abigial Smith is organizing the effort, called Freeport to Freeport, with the Interact Club at Freeport High School. The donations will be sent to Giblyn Elementary School on Long Island, N.Y.

That school was flooded by more than six inches of water that ruined school supplies, infrastructure and dozens of musical instruments, according to Kishore Kuncham, the Freeport, N.Y., school district superintendent.

The more than 550 students at the school are now attending classes at four neighboring schools. Their school is expected to reopen Dec. 10, Kuncham said, noting that although the elementary school was not damaged as severely as some of the other Long Island schools, he estimates the cost of the damage to be more than $1.5 million.

Smith said she began organizing with one of the Interact Club advisers, Dede Bennell, after seeing the damage caused by the hurricane on TV.

"I was watching the news and saw the damage caused by this disaster and how some people had lost everything," she said. "How are they going to go back to school without supplies?

On Tuesday, Smith made a presentation to students at Freeport Middle School, and left a donation box at the school. Two eighth-grade students, Devon Wilbanks and Tyler Lowe, also set up a penny drive at the middle school to help raise money for families in Freeport, N.Y.

Smith and her peers are now asking for donations of basic schools supplies – notebooks, pencils, binders, backpacks, markers and art supplies. Donation boxes will be available at schools in Regional School Unit 5 and at the Freeport Community Center, which is partnering with the students.

The Interact Club hopes to be able to get enough supplies to fill a van that will be driven to New York to deliver the donations, Smith said. The club is the youth arm of the Rotary Club International, which focuses on community service projects.

Bennell, the service learning and aspirations coordinator at Freeport High School, said they plan to have the drive completed by Dec. 20, before winter break. The supplies will be delivered soon after the new year.

"I think from the Freeport (N.Y.) community, the public schools and the Board of Education, we are deeply, deeply moved by this wonderful, kind and generous gesture from Freeport High School in Maine," Kuncham said. "On behalf of all children and families we really thank Freeport High students and faculty and everyone who is involved."

The club not only wants to help the schools, but also the families, said Bennell, who has been in contact with Kuncham to determine the most urgent needs.

"We're shooting for both school and social needs," she said. "We started out just thinking about school supply drive, but realized a lot of families had been displaced from their houses."

The club is also looking to partner with other groups for supplies or in-kind donations, such as helping with delivery, Bennell said. On Friday, the club will meet to delegate duties to its members and coordinate how the items will be picked up and delivered.

"We want to get students engaged as much possible," Bennell said, noting that some students could make cold calls to businesses for donations, while others might help coordinate logistics. "Our goal is to get really broad community support from the schools in the RSU to businesses and community organizations."

Smith, who is a ceramic sculptor and hopes to attend Unity College to study agriculture, said she hopes this effort will make life easier for families affected by the hurricane.

"I hope a lot of these students will be able to go back to their school soon and return some normalcy to their lives," she said. "This will be one less thing the students and their parents will have to worry about."

Kuncham, who said his community has also received support from another Freeport in Illinois, hopes to continue the connection beyond this effort with the schools in Maine. He suggested that they could communicate via Skype when the New York students return to their school next month.

"I would like to hook up remotely and exchange and take this opportunity to have something beyond this elementary school," he said. "We want to continue our friendship and do something in the long term from an academic point of view."

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or wgraff@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.