By ROGER MOONEY
St. PETERSBURG, FL – The plastic boxes, originally meant to hold school supplies like pencils and markers and glue and tape, were stuffed with necessities like toothbrushes and toothpaste, deodorant and underwear.
Each box contained a note written by a student at the Mount Zion Christian Academy.
“Hello, friend. I hope this brings you some happiness and joy,” wrote Tavaris Jones Jr., 6, a first grader at the K-5 private school in St. Petersburg, Florida.
E’Monie Cooper, 8, a second grader, stuffed socks, soap, a toothbrush, rubber bands, baby wipes, pens and a hand towel into a box.
“Love you and be safe,” she wrote on her note.
The boxes were then taped shut and shipped to the Bahamas, where they were intended to ease the burden of children living in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, the Category 5 hurricane that made landfall on Sept. 1 and cut a destructive path across the group of islands.
“I was sad that that happened, and it was sad for them, because some people got hurt,” said Keizyon Taylor, 10, a fourth grader. “I had feelings for them.”
Keizyon’s box contained socks, underwear, soap, hand sanitizer and tissues.
“It made me feel good because I was helping somebody,” he said.
Mount Zion’s 90 students plus teachers and staff packed 120 of those care packages and delivered them to a hurricane relief collection center.
“It was going to the kids who did not have the stuff we have,” said kindergartener Aubreanna Clements, 5.
All but one of Mount Zion’s students attend the school with the help of a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship or Family Empowerment Scholarship for lower-income families. The scholarships are managed by Step Up For Students.
“This project, I felt, would let them feel like they were doing something for someone in need. Even something as small as a little note is golden to the victims,” Mount Zion Principal Franca Sheehy said.
Sheehy said the project fit in well with her theme for this school year: “Acts of Kindness.”
“Every week they focus on different behaviors,” she said. “Welcoming a person. How to listen. Empathy. Especially empathy. It was part of this project, emphasizing feeling how another person would feel in this situation.”
The idea for the care packages came to Sheehy a few days after Hurricane Dorian’s 185 mph winds left thousands homeless and caused $3.4 billion in damage to the Bahamas.
Inside her office were more than 100 plastic pencil boxes that had been donated to her school the previous month. She and the staff were discussing ways the boxes could be used. Several of the civic groups she belongs to were already organizing hurricane relief projects. Sheehy looked at the empty boxes and said, “We can do this, too.”
Letters were sent to the parents and guardians of her students asking them to donate children’s supplies, if they could, with emphasis placed on “if they could.”
Sheehy, along with combined donations from the teachers and staff members, bought washcloths, underwear, wipes, toothbrushes and socks.
The items were lined up, along with those donated by the parents and others, on tables in a classroom. Each student chose items to fill their pink or blue box. The students wrote notes intended to lift the spirits of the child who would receive it.
“I hope you like these gifts we sent from Mount Zion,” wrote second grader Angelica Strong, 7.
She put soap, towels, underwear and socks in her care package.
“It was raining bad (in the Bahamas), and on the news they were checking on the kids, seeing if anything happened to them,” Angelica said. “That made me feel sad.”
Sheehy was pleased with how her school was able to make a small dent in the relief effort and how her students responded to the project.
“Our students need to learn that they can give and help others. This was a time where it wasn’t about them and their needs, but about someone else’s needs,” she said. “I think the project was a success, and they got something from it.”
Aubreanna, the kindergartener who recognized the need to help those less fortunate, remembered seeing the devastating images on TV – families that lost their homes and parents searching for their children. She did not write a note. Instead, she drew a picture of children playing at the beach.
“It was a happy picture,” Aubreanna said.
About Mount Zion Christian Academy
The Mount Zion Christian Academy opened in August 2012 under the leadership of Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church. Enrollment at the K-5 school increased since 2014 by 95% with a 90% retention rate. All teachers have a Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree and all teacher assistants have an Associate’s Degree minimum. Half of faculty/staff have Orton Gillingham Reading Approach (multi-sensory) training. All students receive breakfast/lunch assistance. Tuition with fees for K-3 is $6,993. Tuition with fees for grades 4-5 is $6,519.
Roger Mooney, marketing communications manager, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.