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Storms Spur Flood of Giving for Schools

October 25, 2005 6 min read
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Kailey A. Becker, a 16-year-old clarinet player from Burnsville, Minn., had watched with dismay the television coverage from Louisiana and Mississippi on Hurricane Katrina, and wondered what she might do to help.

Then she had an idea: donating musical instruments to students who lost theirs as a result of the storm.

Since then, with the help of fellow students, she’s spearheaded a drive that has collected about 80 violins, trumpets, clarinets, and other instruments. They will be forwarded by the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation in Sherman Oaks, Calif., to schools in areas hit by the storm, and to needy students forced to move elsewhere.

“Our whole family room is filled with instruments,” Ms. Becker said last week.

From elementary pupils cracking open their piggy banks to companies and foundations writing seven-figure checks, a flood of donations has reached schools and students affected by Katrina since the storm devastated parts of the Gulf Coast in late August. Further help has gone to those affected by Hurricane Rita, which hit southwestern Louisiana and the coast of Texas four weeks later.

The total amount of giving is hard to figure, since there is no central repository tracking the aid. But millions of dollars in cash, goods, and services continue to make their way to schools on the Gulf Coast, as well as to schools elsewhere that have taken in displaced students. While far less than the federal government is eventually expected to provide schools, the private aid has a distinct advantage: It can reach recipients much more quickly.

“The role of the charities is to fill in the cracks and meet needs that the government is not meeting,” said Daniel Borochoff, the president of the American Institute of Philanthropy in Chicago.

‘Huge Outpouring’

Carol A. Roberts, the director of secondary education for the Plaquemines Parish school district in Louisiana, said her district has received all kinds of offers of help.

“It’s amazing,” she said of the donations, whose value she estimated at $200,000. “It’s just a huge outpouring.”

Her system, which had 5,000 students before Katrina, where three of nine schools opened last week for the first time since the storm, has received, for instance, school supplies, desks, and cash—even a promise from one school district to pay a teacher’s salary.

In one example, the Belle Chasse Rotary Club, in Plaquemines Parish, has offered $20,000 in vouchers for displaced students to get school uniforms to attend local public or private schools.

“We have had a very heart-warming outpouring of generosity, from individuals, groups, and schools, even beyond the United States,” said Linda Roane, a spokeswoman for the St. Tammany Parish public schools, which had 37,000 students. “We’re talking page after page of donations.”

An educational toys and games company from Ontario, Canada, for instance, has delivered more than 300 book bags filled with supplies to St. Tammany. And the Hamilton County Principals’ Association in Chattanooga, Tenn., had raised at least $15,000 from students and staff for the St. Tammany schools as of last week.

In addition, the St. Tammany district has established a Katrina Relief Fund, which has collected about $15,000 in donations that can be used for a variety of purposes across the school system.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported last week that an anonymous donor from Saudi Arabia had given $1.25 million worth of portable classrooms and educational supplies to help the Fort Bend, Texas, public schools accommodate evacuees.

Philanthropic organizations, such as the Alexandria, La.-based Rapides Foundation, have also gotten involved. The foundation has offered $100 for each displaced student enrolled at public and private schools in a section of central Louisiana, for a total of more than $375,000 as of last week. Schools receiving the aid are getting wide latitude in how they spend the money.

“We recognized that our districts were going to be hit with a very much unanticipated, extraordinary event,” said Joseph R. Rosier Jr., the foundation’s president. “We simply wanted to make an immediate impact.”

The Atlanta-based BellSouth Foundation, which has long focused on helping public schools in the South, announced in mid-September plans to donate $5 million to help students displaced by Katrina continue their educations via virtual classes.

Retailers Kick In

One of the largest school-based donations so far has been put forward by Best Buy Inc. The electronics retailer is offering up to $8 million for schools affected by Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Rita. The Richfield, Minn.-based company will donate $5 million in computer equipment to schools facing significant repairs or rebuilding.

It also will provide $3 million in gift cards to schools that have taken in displaced students. Those cards can be used to buy school supplies and equipment, from pencils and paper to computers and other electronics.

Target Corp., a retail chain based in Minneapolis, is also stepping in. Beyond offering $1.5 million to the American Red Cross, each store in an area from New Mexico to Florida received a $1,000 allotment to give to local schools in the form of gift cards to help with serving displaced students. The total effort is estimated at $400,000, said Beth A. McGuire, Target’s community-relations manager.

Target also delivered a trailer with some $40,000 worth of school supplies to the Jefferson Parish school system outside New Orleans.

Various nonprofit education groups have also been helping.

The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, had raised $860,000 as of Oct. 18, including pledges, for a fund that will help teachers directly affected by the storms. The need-based grants are averaging about $320, said Denise Cardinal, a spokeswoman for the 2.7 million-member NEA, which is based in Washington. Roughly 150 checks are going out daily.

The National Catholic Educational Association, also located in Washington, has raised more than $800,000 through its member schools to help the many Katrina-affected Roman Catholic schools through its Child to Child campaign, said Barbara A. Keebler, a spokeswoman for the group. The money will be available for a range of educational purposes, such as textbooks, computers, and possibly teacher salaries.

Online Matchmaking

Another avenue of help has been partnerships between schools, an effort the U.S. Department of Education has helped promote with a special Web site it created. On the site, schools affected by the Hurricane can post their needs, and others, whether schools, individuals, or organizations, can connect with them.

“It’s nothing glitzy or fancy, but it does the job,” said Kristine Cohn, a regional representative for the department who has led the effort.

Ms. Cohn estimated that the Web site has helped match up some 400 donors with schools affected by the storm. However, she said the agency may not be aware of many matches.

Not all of the help from schools, educators, and students is explicitly aimed at schools. Much of it is more general aid.

For instance, Maryland students had raised $1.4 million as of last week for hurricane relief through a fund set up by state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.

“Some of them brought in their piggy banks and literally broke them open,” Ms. Grasmick said. “Some of them said, ‘We’re going to give up our ice cream money.’ ”

California students helped raise $625,000 through California Kids Care, a fundraising effort launched by Jack O’Connell, that state’s superintendent of public instruction.

In Missouri, 15 educators at Smith-Cotton High School in Sedalia, including the principal, found an unusual way to entice students to raise money: They promised to shave their heads.

In the end, students collected more than $10,600, said Todd A. Whitney, the principal. “We are long on school spirit,” he said, “short on hair.”

A version of this article appeared in the October 26, 2005 edition of Education Week as Storms Spur Flood of Giving for Schools

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