By Ed Harris
The students at DePaolo Middle School spent the last week organizing and conducting numerous fundraisers to help aid the children affected in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.
Last week the students gathered loose change in a large water jug, donated a small fee to wear a hat on hat day and held a bake sale with items donated from student’s families. The staff and faculty at the school also made a donation to take part in dress down Friday.
“I think it made an impact on them,” DePaolo Asst. Principal Chris Palmieri said of the Newtown killings. “They wanted to give back and help out the community. I’m proud of our kids.”
On Friday, Dec. 14, a heavily armed gunman entered the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown and killed 26 people, including 20 children, before turning the gun on himself. The killings shocked the state and the nation and people from all over have stepped up asking what they could do to help.
One of those people was 12-year-old DePaolo student Kirsten Gersbeck. Following the tragedy, Kirsten decided that she wanted to do something to help the surviving children, their friends and siblings. To do this, she established a teddy bear drive in her neighborhood.
On Friday, Kirsten put together a flyer and went door to door asking her neighbors to donate a teddy bear or stuffed animal to the children of Newtown. She asked that everyone leave their donation in a plastic bag on their front porch for pickup the next day. On Sunday morning, her parents drove her around to collect the bags.
In all, Kirsten was able to collect over 250 teddy bears and stuffed animals.
“I felt so bad about what had happened and I wanted to help,” Kirsten said. “I had heard that they were looking for teddy bears and I thought I could start a collection in my neighborhood.”
Kirsten said her neighbor’s reaction to her drive was supportive and thankful. She said the community thought it was a great idea and some enclosed thank you notes with their donations.
Following the successful weekend drive, Kirsten, along with her parents, brought the idea to school officials at DePaolo. The school officials embraced the idea and implemented the various drives at the school last week.
Palmieri said the fundraisers were all organized and run by a student committee at the school and that students in all the grades participated.
“I am very proud of my daughter and I am very proud to live in a community that is so willing to show its love and support for others in any way possible,” said Kirsten’s mother Karen.
Both Kirsten and Palmieri said the atmosphere in the school last week was somber, yet respectful.
“Everyone was wearing green and white in honor of Sandy Hook even though it was not an organized event,” Kirsten said. “There was extra security and kids were talking about what happened, but no one seemed afraid.”