HARTFORD – In response to the devastating destruction wrought by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, countless donations and other forms of assistance have been pouring in from all parts of the world to help the Gulf Coast residents displaced by the storms.Parishes, schools and other organizations throughout the Archdiocese of Hartford are joining forces with prayers and collections to aid the victims as well. Many creative forms of fund-raising and innovative projects are well underway to aid their counterparts in the South.
Students at Sacred Heart Academy in Hamden teamed up recently with local firefighters to help aid the victims of the Gulf Coast. Their Fill a Fire Truck drive, initiated by the school’s student council, resulted in a fire truck loaded with hundreds of pounds of relief supplies that were gathered by the students and faculty. Students and firefighters loaded food, water and personal care items into a trailer before it made its way to the state armory in New Haven and, finally, the Gulf Coast.
The school initially collected more than $500 in a giant jar after Hurricane Katrina hit the southern states of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. But the students wanted to do more.
"Service is huge here," said Beth Griffin, the school’s public relations director. "The students wanted to actually go down [South] and help out." Then the idea of filling a fire truck began to unfold. One of the students, Melissa Fitzmaurice, came up with the idea. Her dad, a Hamden firefighter, helped to quickly facilitate the process.
"The Fill a Fire Truck project evoked a wholehearted response," said Sister Ritamary Schulz, principal.
Viewing the coverage of Hurricane Katrina moved Father Edmund S. Nadolny, Pastor of St. Stanislaus Parish in Meriden, who wanted to do something. His thoughts gravitated toward the most basic yet vital of all human needs – water.
So, one Saturday morning, he contacted Brad Davis’ radio talk show on WMMW-AM, and asked his listeners to send just one quarter so he could buy a bottle of water for a Gulf Coast resident. Listeners donated more than $6,000. Nadolny used the money to buy 21,000 bottles of water for residents of the stricken areas.
Another coin-collecting endeavor was under way 30 miles to the north at St. James School in Manchester. "Shortly after Katrina hit, my sixth-grade class asked if they could do a school-wide fundraiser," explained Mary Beth Pfeiffer, middle school religion teacher. "We thought of a game to collect quarters."
In preparation, she obtained quarter wrappers, estimating a collection of about $600. "God was so good!" she said. "We collected an amazing $4,000. That was a lot of quarters. It did my heart good to see the enthusiasm, excitement and energy that these children had. It proves what young people can do given the opportunity."
At Holy Cross School in New Britain, seventh grader Heather O’Bright started a collection for Catholic Charities. The school raised $223.50.
Holy Cross High School in Waterbury came up with a Dress-Down Day, offering the opportunity to dress casually in exchange for a $5 donation. "This is always very special," explained Denise Marcella, director of student activities, "because the kids are rarely allowed to go out of dress code."
As inevitably happens, one student forgot about the fund-raiser and came to school in his uniform. "But," Ms. Marcella shared, "he said, ‘I’m sorry I forgot about Dress-Down Day, but would you take this $10 anyway?’" Ms. Marcella said she answered, "Yes, but at least take off your tie."
The one-day effort raised a total of $4,558. The proceeds are being donated to their sister school, Holy Cross High School in New Orleans.
Holy Cross High in Waterbury, in conjunction with Notre Dame in West Haven, also is working with families who are willing to serve as host families for displaced students and/or their families. Information is available at (203) 757-9248
Students at St. Adalbert School in Enfield earned $500 for hurricane victims in four hours through a car wash.
"Cars were lined up nonstop throughout the day to support this worthy cause," said Denise Brethen, a parent. Money raised will be sent to Catholic Relief Services.
The Academy of Our Lady of Mercy, Lauralton Hall, in Milford has a sister school in Gulfport, La. "And, faithful to 100 years of Mercy tradition, Lauralton Hall is again reaching out," said Stefanie Stevens, coordinator of special events and public relations. Students have collected more than $4,000, which will be given to Sisters of Mercy who have remained in the Gulfport area to aid in the relief efforts.
In an Internet forum, set up by the National Catholic Educational Association to help match displaced students and teachers with schools, Catholic schools from as far away as Vermont and California posted notices that they would accept emergency admissions.
Xavier High School in Middletown is doing just that for young men from the affected areas who are relatives or friends of alumni. "It is incumbent on Xavier, as a Catholic school community, to respond in this situation according to the Gospel imperative to help our neighbor," said Xaverian Brother William Ciganek, headmaster. Financial arrangements for such students will be worked out on an individual basis.
Xavier students are also participating in the National Catholic Education Association’s Child-to-Child Program by making monetary donations. Through this program, the NCEA is asking every Catholic school or religious education student across the country to donate $1 to assist in the education of the displaced students.
On its Web site, www.ncea.org, the association posted resource materials for the fundraising campaign and a variety of other hurricane-related aids, including a sample prayer service for victims and Internet assistance in placing displaced students, teachers and religious education directors.
Hardest hit was the Archdiocese of New Orleans, where most of its half-million Catholics live in the city itself. There were more than 11,000 students in Catholic colleges in the Archdiocese, about 17,000 in Catholic high schools and nearly 33,000 in Catholic grade schools. In addition, there were about 18,000 children in religious-education programs.