While many parents along Long Island's south shore worry about rebuilding homes and school administrators in the Sandy-ravaged community of Island Park are still months away from re-opening its elementary school, one of the school district's graduates – a current East Hampton resident – is reaching back out to her old hometown, starting a book drive to help area students and teachers.
Jaci Grande Winthrop's elemantary school alma mater, Francis Hegarty Elementary, remains closed after it sustained extensive water damage during Hurricane Sandy.
"I figured we could get some gently used or new books for elementary school teachers to help rebuild their classrooms," Winthrop said early last week. "Teachers lost years' worth of books."
Every one of nearly 650 students in the district are currently taking class in the district's middle school – more than twice the number of kids the school typically holds.
Winthrop was inspired to reach out in part after seeing a friend post the following online: "My son told his teacher he was sad because his favorite book was destroyed by the flood in my car. She went out and got him another one. In our haste to replace cars and rebuild homes we have to stop and think what were the major losses in our children's universe. "
After starting the book drive in late November, by the end of last week Winthrop said that the response had her "a little overwhelmed. I may need to reach out for some help."
Several schools in East Hampton had informed parents about the book drive, and last Friday Winthrop was told by the high school that there were more books to pick up. Though she told the school she would have her son take the books home, she was surprised to receive an email informing her that there were over 30 boxes full of books waiting for her.
Island Park School District Superintendent Rosmarie Bovino said that between a foot and a foot-and-a-half of water flooded the elementary school, which houses kindergarten through fourth grade. It is not expected to open for at least another six months, she said, while an estimated $25,000 in books at the library were damaged and nearly $90,000 in instruments were destroyed. The district sustained an estimated $6 million in total damages. Bovino said the district's insurance will cover about half of that.
Though the district's costs are one of many facing families in the area.
"Every single home has significant water damage," she said. "This is a major issue financially for our families."
Winthrop's brother still lives in Island Park – in her parent's old house, which she grew up in.
"It's down to its studs," she said. Her aunt fared a little better, she said, just requiring new electric throughout her home.
Getting new books to teachers and students may not turn the lights on in anyone's home, but with so much work to do in the area, losses in the "children's universe," which Winthrop's friend mentioned online, still need to be addressed as well.
"It might seem smaller, but it is really integral to being able to provide instructional programs so we don't have a major hiccup," said Bovino.
Winthop said Monday morning that she will be running the book drive through Friday, which should give her enough time to sort out remaining donations in time before Christmas. Based on what she had seen just from picking books up at the high school (other participating schools included Wainscott School and Montauk School, and others), the supply certainly seemed to be there.
"I think we're onto something," she said.