Tobi Phillips knew that making a difference in the wake of superstorm Sandy would be so simple, a child could do it.
So she put her own students up to the task.
Phillips, who founded Village East Gifted, an after-school enrichment program in Huntington, was inspired to get her students involved in the Sandy relief effort by her own daughter, Rachael.
After Hurricane Katrina, Rachael, then a 15-year-old high school student, ran a donation drive to help the “tiny” victims of the storm over winter break, Phillips and her daughter hand delivered the items in Memphis, Tenn.
Thinking of the life-changing effect that act of giving brought to her daughter, Phillips decided to pass that opportunity on to other children.
In early November, Phillips created a guideline for the “Rachael’s Infant Relief Drive” and encouraged each of the students to make it their own.
“We wanted the kids to be the leaders,” said Phillips, who founded Village East Gifted in 2005. “To see who they’re giving it to and the feeling that comes from giving to those in need.”
The 10 steps designed for children to follow boiled down to a simple concept: decorate a donation box, find a location to place it, spread word about the effort, find an organization willing to accept the donations and bring them there.
Twelve students from eight school districts around Long Island have participated so far, collecting more than 10 SUVs worth of supplies and raising more than $1,000. Donations have gone to various places, including a shelter in the Town of Babylon, a shelter for displaced families from Long Beach and individual families.
Phillips hopes to renew the effort after the holidays “when gift giving stops and reality hits again.”
Lisa Mauro’s 5-year-old daughter Brianna decorated a donation box to leave in the lobby at Huntington Montessori, where she attends kindergarten.
Mauro, of Huntington, said it was a great experience watching her daughter learn the concept of giving and helping others.
“She would come home from school so excited and say, ‘The box is overflowing!' ” Mauro said.
They filled the box in a week and a half with supplies like baby formula and infant diapers, and are hoping to find a place to donate them after the holidays.
Madeline Moussa, of Bohemia, and her son Adam, 10, decorated a box to place at Adam’s elementary school, Sycamore Avenue, in Bohemia.
She said Adam took the initiative to speak to his principal for permission to place the box there and made announcements on the loudspeaker every morning to remind the school of his effort.
His effort paid off: Adam’s school community filled several extra-large boxes of infant supplies, which the Moussas donated to a shelter in the Town of Babylon.
“The school even wrote him a letter to say what a good job he did and how proud they were of him,” Moussa said of Sycamore Elementary. “I think it’s great that he was in charge. He learned a lot.”
Adam said he enjoyed working on the project and was proud of how much they were able to donate.
“Every morning I made an announcement about Rachael’s Relief Drive,” he said. “Then, every morning I sat there and people were lining up to put things in the box.”
Lisa Mauro, who works in Oceanside and has seen the wrath of the storm firsthand, said she would like to find a specific family to donate to so her daughter can get the full impact of her effort.
“She understands what donations are,” Mauro said about Brianna’s involvement. “She understands what it means to donate. Now that she was directly involved, it has more meaning for her.”
Above: Students from kindergarten to the second grade decorated a donation box to collect supplies for infants affected by superstorm Sandy at the Village East Gifted enrichment program in Huntington.