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Catonsville Elementary effort aids NJ community ravaged by Superstorm Sandy

Hurricane Sandy (2012)

Sometime this week, a van from Elkridge-based DH Moving and Storage with two shipments for Massachusetts will make a detour delivery to a small beach community in New Jersey.

Inside more than 100 boxes to be dropped off in Keansburg, across from Staten Island, contain school supplies, such as pencils, folders, paper, notebooks and binders; first-aid items, including flashlights and batteries; household paper goods, such as towels and tissues and warm clothing, such as gloves, hats, sweat shirts, sweat pants and socks.

The supplies were collected over the past month at Catonsville Elementary School and during a special community collection event Dec. 1 at the school on Frederick Road.

Saturday's morning chill failed to dampen the volunteers' enthusiasm as they warmly greeted residents dropping off items at the school for shipment to the New Jersey community still reeling from Superstorm Sandy's impact a month ago.

Members of the school's faculty and staff, along with a few students and a recent graduate of the school on Frederick Road happily accepted the donations for delivery to the Jersey shore town.

There was no special connection between the school community and its New Jersey counterpart.

"We are a very giving school community and we all just wanted to do something," said Linda Miller, in her sixth year as principal at the school. "It started with donations at school during American Education Week (Nov. 11-17) from students and faculty.

"For the community piece, we wanted to do something while it (the destruction by Sandy) was still fresh in everyone's mind and not too close to the (Christmas) holidays," she said.

Miller credited Nicole White, a special education teacher at the school, for providing the impetus for the collection effort to adopt the New Jersey school.

"Seeing things on TV, the devastation, something clicked," White said. "We just wanted to help.

"We are just so close to New York and New Jersey," she said. "I felt like we should do something to help our neighbors and it grew into this."

For Amanda Cohen, another teacher at the school who volunteered on Saturday, Sandy's impact hit a little close to home.

"The beach I always used to go to, it isn't there any more," said the New Jersey native, whose family was without power for a week after Sandy hit.

Rebekah Kaufman, in her 15th year as librarian at Catonsville Elementary, grew up in Manhattan. While watching images of Sandy's destruction online, she said she saw the playground where she used to play completely under water.

"It's a good thing, what we are doing," she said. "The kids here are amazing. They're great kids."

Virginia O'Malley and her two children, Gracelin, 10, and Jake, 6, both students at Catonsville Elementary, were also among the volunteers Saturday morning.

"When the collection started we at DH wanted to do something," said O'Malley, whose husband, Sean, runs the Elkridge-based moving and storage company.

She said the company had aided earlier volunteer efforts after Katrina, for example.

That the school community rallied to come to the aid of a unfamiliar New Jersey town didn't surprise Melissa O'Brien, a secretary in the school's front office for five years.

"I've always loved this school," said O'Brien, whose children both attended the school. "I've always thought it was a great school."

Brandy Baker, the school custodian, brought her son, Brandon, a sixth-grader at Arbutus Middle School who had attended Catonsville Elementary, to help unload donations and pack boxes to load into the moving van a DH Moving and Storage driver had parked on the school's lot Saturday

Brandon said he didn't mind spending a Saturday morning helping put up the sign directing residents where to go to drop off the donations and setting out chairs on the rear parking lot, especially since it meant earning service hours he needs for graduation.

His mother was also glad to be part of the effort.

"I think it's amazing," she said as she watched the volunteers swarm around a car to unload some donations. "Our school is so giving. We're always pulling together, the school and the community, to work together and help out."

This story has been updated.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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