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Wayside Helps Out

Students pack supplies for Katrina evacuees.

The students at Wayside Elementary School understand that you can’t put community in a box.

Students and parents packed 10 large boxes of sports equipment, toiletries, and hand-written letters for victims of Hurricane Katrina during a community service night Dec. 6 organized by the Wayside Parent Teacher Association. The boxes will be sent to an elementary school in Baker, La. that has taken in 150 extra students—all New Orleans evacuees.

Before the activity, students listened to a New Orleans man who fled with his family hours before the storm and now lives in Germantown. He asked the children to look left and right and recognize that they have something irreplaceable—their community.

“We wrote letters to them. We sent them shampoo, toothbrushes soap,” said fourth-grader Jenna Rhodes.

But asked what she thinks children who had lost their homes would most want, Jenna had some different ideas: “comfy beds to sleep in, friends.”

Jenna got the point, and so did most of the students who participated, said parent organizer Helene Glick. The displaced children do need soap and baseball gloves, but the also miss their houses, their pets, and their friends from home.

That’s why Wayside students wrote letters and holiday cards for their Louisiana counterparts.

“They were saying, ‘We hope you have a good holiday, we hope everything is okay with your house,’” Glick said.

The Louisiana school particularly needed extra equipment for physical education classes. It had already received donations of school supplies, in part from “project backpack,” which was organized by Walt Whitman High School families.

A local U-Haul branch donated the boxes and a Gaithersburg United Parcel Service office will ship them at a reduced cost.

In a similar project last year, Wayside students packed supplies and cards to send to soldiers serving in Iraq. Glick said the current events focus of the community service nights is a bonus, but that they were really just aimed at addressing needs.

While donations surge immediately after events like Katrina, they’re equally important a few months later.

“People maybe aren’t as motivated now but these people still really need us,” she said.

Glick added that the community service nights go only a small way toward teaching Wayside students an important lesson, one they occasionally identify but quickly forget.

“They’re really, really lucky,” she said.