SCHOOL TALK: Lessons in Giving

Downtown schools and neighborhoods were disrupted during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, but that did not stop the PTAs of local schools from feeling the urgency to help those in devastated neighborhoods.

At PS 89 and IS 289 parents arrived at school on Monday, the first day back after the unexpected week off, with muffins, brownies, and even an apple tart still hot from the oven for a joint Election Day bake sale. The event raised more than $2,000 for the American Red Cross.

Eighth graders at PS/IS 276 also held an Election Day bake sale that had been intended to fund their graduation. But the students themselves decided to give the money to hurricane relief instead.

Fundraising to support school enrichment programs is often supplemented by community outreach, whether collecting books for Project Cicero (an annual book drive for needy New York City school and classroom libraries), or running food and coat drives during the winter months. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Downtown schools learned at first hand what it was like to be on the receiving end and they have been sensitive to the needs of other schools and communities ever since.

“In the aftermath of September 11th, the generosity of strangers from around the country and the world was bestowed upon our school community, and it is something I will never forget,” PS 89 Principal Ronnie Najjar, who is coordinating the school’s plan for outreach, wrote in a letter home to parents during the week following the storm.

Maria Ouranitsas, school secretary at Lower Manhattan Community Middle School and longtime Battery Park City resident, described watching the news coverage of the disaster with her daughter. “We kept saying, ‘This is awful. We have to do something.’”

Having lived Downtown through 9/11, they remembered a simple gift that had meant a lot to Marina, a PS 89 kindergartner at the time—a Beanie Baby that still resides on her bed.

Mother and daughter immediately started a toy and book drive with collection boxes in four Battery Park City buildings. In just a week they collected enough to fill a van, drove out to Long Beach, and found a Knights of Co­lumbus collection site to distribute their donations. Maria has continued collecting books and toys at her school, and is looking for a school to partner with for future giving.

Both PS/IS 276 and the Spruce Street School had students who were displaced by the storm. They had professionals on hand to help parents help their children cope with the emotional impact on their lives. At the same time, parents at both schools reached out to help other schools truly devastated by the disaster. 

276 Cares, a group of PS 276 parents, organized volunteer days and a supply drive to help two schools whose buildings were severely damaged and whose students were displaced. They plan to continue this support long term. The Spruce Street School turned its lobby into a staging area for donations, which, with the help of the Mayor’s office, were directed to affected neighborhoods.

Other schools also found ways to help. Even before their school reopened, Stuyvesant High School students and faculty organized a “Hurricane Relief Drive,” creating a Facebook event that told readers what items were needed. According to the school newspaper, The Spectator, in addition to collecting food, clothes and blankets, they raised $600 on the first day back to school.

The Peck Slip School ran a coat drive and a food drive. Unsold items from PS 150’s annual rummage sale were donated to victims of the storm. PS 150 and PS 234 held bake sales to benefit Manhattan Youth’s badly damaged Downtown Community Center. Standing in front of Whole Foods on Election Day, members of a Brownie troop who attend PS 234 and PS 276 also collected funds to help rebuild the center. (See page 34.)

A fourth grader at PS 234 hung a handmade flyer in the elevator of my building, asking neighbors to donate to Manhattan Youth and the Downtown Community Center. Her heartfelt and personal plea reflects how much this neighborhood program means to the children. Even more, it demonstrates how a passionate 9-year-old can make a difference.

Connie Schraft is the PS 89 parent coordinator. For questions about Down­town schools, write