school students help save Christmas for hurricane victims
By ANNE C. BOWERS
Irene took so much from so many islanders, but some Cape Hatteras high
school students decided they were not going to let Christmas be one of
have spent the last three months raising money for holiday decorations
for storm victims.
school seniors and best friends, Foster Mattingly and Victoria Gaskins,
wrestled with how they could help the community following the
devastation caused by Hurricane Irene, which wiped out dozens of family
homes on Aug. 27.
knew that Christmas gifts would be taken care of,” said Foster. But she
added that Christmas decorations are expensive and an important part of
the holiday spirit. The girls decided that providing holiday
decorations would be a different approach and would be important to
make the holiday seem normal for those who lost so much.
idea was taken to school and became a community service project for the
Cape Hatteras Secondary School’s DECA Club, which provides real-world
business projects and competitions in marketing, finance, hospitality
and management. Evan Ferguson is the teacher-advisor to the
which has 24 student members.
classmate Kailee Pieno joined the two seniors as project
leader. All three girls work part-time at Conner’s
Supermarket in Buxton.
envisioned a place full of beautiful Christmas trees, ornaments,
wreaths, lights, roping, snowmen, tree skirts, and more where people
could come in and pick out as much as they wanted and everything would
project was named “Irene’s Giving Tree” and culminated with a community
event on Monday, Dec. 5, at the Rodanthe-Waves-Salvo Community Center,
which is located in the epicenter of the hurricane damage.
Kailee, and Victoria set out looking for monetary donations and brand
new or gently used Christmas decorations. The project was
advertised through Facebook, and the news of the event spread like
wildfire. The students even set up a table at a fall fishing
tournament to speak with visitors.
drop boxes were placed in strategic locations on the island and at a
lawyer’s office in Manteo. RBC bank, Teach’s Lair Marina,
Conner’s Supermarket, and several realty companies helped with
poured in from everywhere. Angela Conner said that some
boxes of decorations were piled up in front of the grocery store’s
front door. Thanks to the power of the social media,
contributions came from all over the mid-Atlantic states and even
All the items were stored in the upstairs of the Conner’s Supermarket
should have seen it,” says John Conner. “It was slammed full,
packed from end to end. This is the coolest thing for kids to
girls decided to break the event into two sessions on Dec. 5.
first two hours would be private and by invitation only. With
help of Dare County Social Services, they selected 30 of the most
affected families to receive an invitation. Most were from the
wanted to target families with children,” offered teacher Evan Ferguson.
later session would be open to the public. And, again, there
would be no charge for anything.
girls used a large horse trailer and several cars to transport
everything from Buxton to Rodanthe. They filled the spacious
of the community center with beautifully decorated trees and tables
covered with decorations and holiday knickknacks, all artfully
arranged. The back room was piled with backup inventory so
could be restocked during the event.
the time the event began on Monday, the community building looked like
a winter wonderland, a first-class operation with multi-colored lights
outlining the walls as the three high school girls emerged, dressed to
the hilt in their holiday best.
figured we should look nice – adds to the holiday spirit,” said Kailee.
the first families walked in, it was just like Christmas
anywhere. A young mother ushered in her young
saying, “Looks like a Christmas fantasy land in here.”
the children acted like children, gravitating towards Christmas teddy
bears and snowy figures. Yes, they were truly under the
spell of Christmas.
son. You are going to fall and get hurt” one young dad called
after his child.
Victoria, and Kailee were there to help people who needed decorating
advice or loading help. As part of the project, they provided
plastic tubs for folks to use as a shopping cart and to store the
decorations after the holiday.
instructed people to take what they wanted. “Get a
tree! Just go crazy!” was the order of the day.
wandered around the room with their plastic tubs, filling it with
things they wanted. Some selected items quickly while others
much more methodical, enjoying the event and munching on Christmas
cookies made by the Conner family as Christmas music played softly in
the background. There was a steady flow of people.
weird to be able to just come in and grab stuff. It is
really, really nice,” one father said.
young girl picked up a large snow globe and held it in her arms,
instantly captivated by it. “I used to collect them before
storm. Now, I have no idea where they are.”
is really, really nice,” said one shopper. “The people who
didn’t come don’t know what they are missing.”
it was really, really nice. The project received about $1,500
monetary donations, and the girls used it very wisely and even had some
did a great job of getting new stuff,” their teacher said.
chose to spend money on lights, trees stands, and totes
Hardware and Home Depot offered the girls discounts on Christmas
decorations. Port O’ Call Restaurant in Kill Devil Hills
some very expensive and gorgeous ornaments. The DECA program
First Flight High School in Nags Head also contributed.
were 60 Christmas trees for the taking -- 30 freshly cut trees that
came with a tree stand, 15 brand new artificial trees, and 15 gently
used trees. David Hughes from Kitty Hawk donated the fresh
and Bob Pacitto from New Jersey gave 30 artificial Christmas trees to
Hatteras Island Quilters made several beautiful tree skirts and some
amazing quilted ornaments. Kinnakeet Clayworks designed and
created special tree ornaments for the event. Several
distributors for the island also contributed decorations to the cause.
wasn’t long before the room needed to be restocked with holiday items
from the back room as the tables began to thin.
young man who was leaving with his plastic tote loaded with some
spirit said, “This has helped us greatly - helped a lot of
people. Some people had their decorations in storage and are
finding out that they had lost their decorations.”
graduate of Cape Hatteras High School said, “We never did anything like
this when I was in school and that was only two years ago.”
was nice to see all of these people,” said Foster. “We
how people would react. Never thought it would be this
People were so excited and kept asking us what they could do to help.”
was a DECA chapter event, but it was these three girls that executed
it,” said Ferguson. “Awesome project!”
Kailee, Foster and the rest of the DECA club members will travel to
Greensboro in March to make a live presentation of their community
service event to a panel of judges in a statewide DECA competition.
leftover decorations were taken over to the Really Really Free Market.
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