MANASQUAN, N.J. (CNS) — Strengthening a relationship forged by the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, benefactors from a California Episcopal school traversed the country to visit a New Jersey Catholic school to see firsthand how their continuing outreach is helping a counterpart still recovering from the 2012 super storm.
Earlier this spring, members of the Campbell Hall Episcopal school community in North Hollywood visited their friends at St. Denis Catholic School in Manasquan, in the Trenton Diocese, as part of a long-running, cross-country ecumenical partnership.
“They learned about us over the Internet,” said Lynda Wynd, advancement director at St. Denis School.
Hurricane Sandy’s wrath left 3 feet of water throughout the school’s first floor, destroying the primary classrooms, gymnasium, computer lab, science room, offices and cafeteria. The school posted pictures on Facebook and published an electronic wish list of supplies, prompting a number of telephone calls from near and far — and even farther.
Meanwhile, on the West Coast, Ilise Friedman and Jan Weiss, Campbell Hall Episcopal outreach committee members, like millions of other Americans, were stunned by media coverage of the storm’s effects on their East Coast counterparts.
“Right after the storm, I reached out to colleagues in Rumson and Sea Bright, looking to help through the Red Cross,” Weiss remembered, “but there was lots of red tape.” A call to the Manasquan town hall requesting the names of affected schools led her to St. Denis’ Facebook page and Vimeo video. Weiss decided she had to reach out to the devastated New Jersey school.
“Our (Campbell Hall Episcopal) students wear uniforms, and they have the same tartan as the St. Denis kids. They even look like our kids,” Weiss told The Monitor, Trenton’s diocesan newspaper. “No one could watch that footage and not want to help.”
Weiss contacted the Manasquan school Dec. 3, 2012.
Wynd said, “I said what I said to everyone who called: Whatever you can do is great, and just the fact that you are reaching out to us is appreciated.”
“From there, it blossomed into a relationship, a really good relationship,” recalled Trudy Bonavita, principal of St. Denis. “We were out of school (because of flood damage) for three weeks, and the Campbell Hall gifts started to flow immediately after.”
The West Coast benefactors sent an early Christmas present: more than two dozen refurbished and recycled laptops, two LCD projectors and four printers to replace those St. Denis lost in the storm. Six boxes of textbooks followed, then came a holiday card mailing with personalized notes, stickers, pencils and packets of hot cocoa tucked inside the envelopes.
St. Denis students sent thank-you letters in return to their new California friends, but Campbell Hall had more surprises in store: a friendship banner showing hands stretching toward one another across a giant heart.
“We came back to the downstairs classrooms about Christmastime,” said Bonavita. “It was the first piece of artwork hung, at the end of the cafeteria.”
In February 2013, the California school held a bingo fundraiser with a Valentine’s theme of “heart to heart, school to school,” bringing in $5,000 to help St. Denis.
This spring, Friedman and Weiss, along with Weiss’ family members and a group of Campbell Hall students, were in New Jersey for a Habitat for Humanity project and visited St. Denis in Manasquan.
For one of the visiting Californians, the friendship banner sent to St. Denis more than a year earlier — and still hanging in the school’s cafeteria — made a lasting impression.
Weiss’ sixth-grade son “went over to it and saw the artwork he had drawn on it from the other side of the country,” Friedman remarked. “(The outreach project) really hit home for him.”
Said Bonavita: “Other schools said they would send us things and never followed up. These people blew me away. We have to pay it forward.”
Leslie is a staff writer at The Monitor, newspaper of the Diocese of Trenton.