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The images of the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy hit Piñon Elementary School art teacher Stephanie Rittner hard.
“I felt we couldn’t sit back and not do anything,” said Rittner, who is originally from New York. “As a community that has been through a natural disaster ourselves, I felt we could understand what they would need most. I was home with my daughter that day, so I emailed staff and they got on the ball.”
Principal Jill Gonzales said that Rittner’s email became part of the conversation about what the school could do to help.
Staff reached a consensus that a fund drive for the American Red Cross would be most useful. Gonzales was at a conference at that time, but encouraged them to organize it.
Guidance Councilor Ellen Cort, secretary Wendy Hime and school clerk Kelly Hinojos were the organizing force behind the effort. They put out buckets for donations and cut out red, white and blue stars students could write their names on and post when they donated.
Instructional assistant Jo Lakis created the artwork and graphics for a “thermometer” to record progress and an oversized ceremonial check to present to the Red Cross.
The sixth grade classes helped with the effort by making posters and announcements over the public address system.
“This was really a school effort,” Gonzales said.
The school set an initial goal of raising $1,000. “We thought if every student brought $3 each we could reach that goal,” Rittner said.
According to Rittner, the students were so excited about helping out they reached that goal in less than three days. Kindergarten students showed up with $1, while other students dropped $100 checks from their families into the bucket.
“I was so amazed by the generosity, not just of the kids but the staff and the entire Piñon community,” Rittner said. “People were just coming by and dropping off checks. I’m just really proud of the kids and parents of the Piñon community.”
Gonzales asked the students if they would like to try doubling that amount and they were all for it.
“The kids were really the driving force,” Gonzales said. “The staff put the infrastructure in place, but the kids and their families were the driving force.”
A second grade student named Peter Rademacher suggested collecting another type of donation for students in Lower Manhattan: Halloween candy.
“Peter was really worried when the hurricane came in,” said his father David Rademacher. “He has a cousin living just two blocks from the “red zone” who had classmates that had to evacuate.”
Peter knew that this was the second year in a row Halloween celebrations had been canceled due to weather. In 2011 a major snowstorm closed the city down. He thought the children would appreciate getting a treat.
Peter’s second grade teacher Marcella Nogar, agreed, and helped the children collect the candy. Nogar’s son is an emergency room doctor in Manhattan and had told her how devastated the area was.
“We sent a good-sized box of candy to his cousin to bring to school to distribute,” Rademacher said. “We’re sending more today (Friday).”
Piñon Elementary staff and students presented a check for $2,301.14 to the American Red Cross Monday. Interim Regional CEO Rahim Balsara accepted the check. Kathy Segura, regional director of resource development for the Santa Fe Community Chapter and Logistics Coordinator Kassandra Roybal also attended the ceremony.
“I’m just impressed with the students and families from Piñon,” Gonzales said. “The response is overwhelming.”