Donating a few dollars to charity is a noble act, but can often be more fleeting than the impact of rolling up one's sleeves and taking an active role in relief efforts.
The reality of the dire situation residents of New Jersey's shore communities are living with after Hurricane Sandy hit home for many in South Brunswick, few more so than Brooks Crossing Elementary School third grade teacher Shannon Iaffaldano. As a resident of the Bayshore community of Atlantic Highlands, Iaffaldano is getting Brooks students involved in relief efforts by urging them to do more than just a usual donation.
"There are so many places that need help, but (helping Atlantic Highlands) meant the most to me because I grew up in Bayshore," Iaffaldano said. "I approached (Brooks Crossing Principal) Jodi Mahoney about doing some kind of drive for the area. We wanted to link the drive with responsibility to make the kids more invested in helping."
Soon after, the idea was launched at Brooks Crossing for Chores to Restore the Shore. The initative involves Brooks Crossing kids raising money for Atlantic Highlands students by completing chores and good deeds around the house and neighborhood. The amount of money the kids earn is up to parents and dependent on what each family is comfortable donating.
The money collected will go directly to purchase items for students and their families who lost everything. Iaffaldano worked with an Atlantic Highlands principal who told her items such as winter jackets, snow boots, sneakers, shirts, pants, socks, hats, scarves and gloves are in desperate need.
"They have a class where 19 out of 20 kids need a winter wardrobe," Iaffaldano said. "Everything they have was destroyed."
The half-mile community of Atlantic Highlands is home to about 5,000 residents with approximately 1,500 living in the downtown area, which borders the river, Iaffaldano said. About 90 percent of the downtown residences have been deemed unlivable after the river breached, as the watermark reached as high as 10 feet on some of the homes.
"It's deeply emotional for me when I look at the footage," Iaffaldano noted. "I have family and friends who are still displaced. Some have to completely rebuild. As a teacher, my heart is always with children. To know there are kids going through that, we'd be grateful to able to make a difference for those kids this time of year."
The collection runs through Dec. 18, when Iaffaldano will purchase the items needed at Atlantic Highlands. She said the staff at the school is hopeful that performing chores to earn money for Sandy victims their own age will resonate with the Brooks Crossing kids as they progress through school.
"This goes in line with our character education program and making them think about citizenship at an early age," Iaffaldano added. "They're using money they could've put towards a video game or toy and instead giving their own money. It's more powerful when they know they worked for it and performed a selfless act."