STAFFORD TOWNSHIP — Among the many losses of Hurricane Sandy were toys left waterlogged and broken by the storm.
On Monday a group of kindergarteners at the Ronald L. Meinders Primary Learning Center received shoeboxes with some small but heartfelt replacements prepared by kindergarteners in at the Dickerson Elementary School in Chester, Morris County. The two groups of children were connected through New Jersey Strong, a nonprofit formed to help families recover from Hurricane Sandy.
Lindsay Donald, founder and CEO of New Jersey Strong, said the idea came from her former high school English teacher, Kristen Turner, who has twins in kindergarten at the Dickerson School, and also had a lot of empty shoe boxes. She arranged for her children’s class to make the boxes, then Donald picked them up.
“I thought it was a great idea and a teachable moment for both groups,” Donald said by phone. “We’ve been doing a lot of house cleanups, but this was a way to reach some of the most vulnerable victims. And kids reach each other at their own level.”
Marie McMenamy,of Stafford, a friend of Donald’s, delivered the boxes with her 4-year-old daughter, Layla, who helped distribute them.
“Kids just like you put these boxes together for you,” McMenamy told the students. “They are filled with little presents to bring you happiness.”
Fifteen children at the Primary Learning Center and 10 at the Oxycocus School, also in Stafford Township, received the boxes. School spokeswoman Karina Monanian said the K-6 district has identified 110 students who have been displaced by the storm or are living in damaged homes, and those children were targeted for the shoeboxes.
Students eagerly ripped off the bright yellow wrapping paper, which students had covered in stickers. Inside the shoeboxes were small stuffed animals, card games, colorful pencils, small cans of Play-Doh, snacks and a gift card for the families.
“Is this a credit card?” asked Joey Carino, 5, as he pulled the gift card out of its envelope. His box also included some jacks a chapstick and a small rubber ball, all of which met with his approval.
Each student also got a handwritten note that said “I hope you like your treats. Have lots of fun with them.”
School Principal Carl Krushinski said the young students have been pretty resilient, but he’s happy to have them back on a normal school schedule. The school was closed for two weeks after the storm, then broke for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Monanian said families living in the Beach Haven West area were especially hard hit, though most have relocated within the district at least temporarily. The district has been providing some supplies and a recent benefit concert at the Performing Arts Center raised $7,200.
She said staff has been keeping an eye on the affected students, who tend to have very practical concerns.
“They worry that Santa won’t know where they are living now,” she said.
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