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News Maryland Baltimore County Towson

Teachers' connection at heart of West Towson's Sandy relief effort

A dozen years ago, two high school field hockey players forged a friendship when they met on a recruiting trip to Towson University.

Over the past week, the two friends have forged another partnership — one that's helping West Towson Elementary School send supplies to neighborhoods in Long Island, N.Y., that were ravaged by Superstorm Sandy.

"We wanted to start small, because we had no idea what was going to come in," said Kerry McCosker, library media specialist at West Towson Elementary, as she showed off boxes and boxes filled with donated items last week, "but it's just been crazy what we've gotten."

After the storm hit last month, McCosker called her former field hockey teammate Andrea Schlezes Grubb, to make sure she and her family made it through safely.

Grubb, a former teacher at Cromwell Valley Elementary, currently teaches fifth grade at Watson Elementary School, in Rockville Centre, N.Y. She said her own family was fine, but many others were in need.

"We were not really affected, other than power outages and no cable, but all of our homes were pretty much OK," Grubb said of Rockville Centre.

"But the town of Long Beach … was completely devastated, so our school is doing some fundraising, as well and trying to gather some things to put (in) a nice big package for the people of Rockaway and Long Beach," she said.

Last week McCosker decided her school here in Towson should join that effort, and the supply drive was announced in the West Towson's weekly newsletter. It was also frequently mentioned on the morning announcements in each teacher's weekly email to parents.

The response has been overwhelming, she said.

"We've had everything from blankets to jackets to boots," McCosker said. "Kids are bringing in their stuffed animals."

West Towson Principal Susan Hershfeld said that every day this week, students have been getting off the bus with clothing and toys for their peers in New York, and "they're just so proud."

"We make a big deal about teaching the value of giving back, and I think that's what we're seeing," Hershfeld said. "We're seeing children who understand the rewards of giving back to others."

Since the drive was announced, the school has also received calls from community members who don't have children at West Towson but want to help anyway. One man called to say that he previously couldn't bring himself to give away his late parents' clothing, but wanted to donate them to the school's relief effort.

"The community is so supportive," McCosker said. "The parents here are great, and the kids here are amazing. The kids are already saying 'What else can we do?' They're already thinking ahead. It's already snowballed into something bigger, which is really neat to see."

Throughout the week, McCosker has kept her old teammate and roommate in the loop.

"She sent me a picture of what they've collected, and I was in tears," Grubb said in a phone interview. "It was an unbelievable amount of supplies and clothing they were able to get, it was just so generous."

Boxes of supplies were overflowing in the school's foyer, causing McCosker to reevaluate her delivery plans. She had reserved a U-Haul truck, but has reconsidered and may try to ship the supplies at this point.

"They identify areas of need because they're right there in the community," McCosker said. "That's why we started the partnership. We wanted to do something, but not being there, we don't know where it really needs to go and she does. They've kind of figured out where they're going to send it and what other area schools need."

Grubb said there were no firm plans for what to do with the supplies, though there's no lack of need. Her mother-in-law works at a church day care, which could help distribute supplies.

But she also mentioned that right in her school, 11 displaced children whose families lost everything have enrolled since the storm, meaning Grubb may not have to look far to find legitimate need.

Grubb said that through West Towson's efforts, students at both schools are gaining an understanding "that giving back means everything."

"It kind of happened at the perfect time of year, with the holidays and Thanksgiving coming up," she said. "It just fits nicely."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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