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By Connie Leinbach
Angels showered their largess on Ocracoke Tuesday as hundreds of boxes and packages arrived for Ocracoke school children.
“Everybody is wearing all of these halos,” said Jeanie Owens, Ocracoke School fifth-grade teacher, as Celeste Brooks, Ocracoke postmaster, delivered three “post-cons” full of school supplies.
Post cons are open trolleys that can be hooked together to move mail around, Brooks said.
The packages arrived after Owens posted on Facebook that, if people wanted to help the island after the week-long power crisis, families here would welcome school supplies.
“It’s just crazy,” Owens said as the post cons were moved into the multi-purpose room outside the school gym. “It’s coming from all over.”
That is, all over the United States.
During the power crisis that shut down the island to tourists from July 29 to Aug. 4, she was thinking about her school-supply list for the upcoming school year that starts Aug. 28,
“In light of our emergency situation, how are my parents going to afford this?” she said in the post. “Most of our families work in the tourism industry, primarily between the months of April and November. Some parents hold two, even three, jobs to meet their families’ financial needs throughout the year.
“Without our wonderful tourists, our businesses are closed and our families are losing their income,” she said. “Even if full power is restored and tourists return, getting school supplies would mean a day-trip off the island, which is another day without pay for many.”
Many on Facebook had asked how they can help the island, and Owens said “school supplies.” With donations, all the children in the school’s grades kindergarten through 12, will be able to “shop” for what they need after Owens and other teachers and volunteers sort all of the gifts.
“After all, part of the fun of starting your school year is picking out your own supplies,” Owens said.
Helping Owens on Tuesday were Alice Burrus, the first-grade teacher, and Claire Ross, the kindergarten teacher.
Last year, the student population in all grades was 188.
After all of the items are sorted, Owens and the others will set a date or two for students to shop at staged times. That day may be Aug. 18 and 19, she said, though it has not been confirmed.
Owens dubbed her campaign “Pack a Backpack” and posted it on her own Facebook page and one called Ocracoke Island.”
A number of gifts that arrived prior to Tuesday’s delivery included backpacks already packed with markers, pencils, notebooks and more.
“We’ve also received financial donations (about $600) and gift cards,” said Principal Leslie Cole as she and school staffers worked in the makeshift office in the information highway room while the school commons area and office are being renovated.
“The response has been beyond our wildest imagination,” she continued. “People love Ocracoke and our school.”
As she spoke, she saw an email from a Morehead City school, which also wants to help.
Other efforts are also occurring.
Among the other efforts, Robin Turner reported on her Facebook page that she obtained a donation of composition books for every student in the school from Wal-Mart of Washington, N.C.
Ocracoke kids aren’t the only students who need help with school supplies.
On Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper launched the kickoff of the Governor’s School Supply Drive from Aug. 14 to Sept. 8 to help address unmet classroom needs in North Carolina public schools.
“Far too often, teachers have to dip into their own pockets to cover the cost of classroom supplies that their students need to learn,” Cooper said in a press release. “It’s my hope that this supply drive is one day unnecessary, but until then I encourage North Carolinians to help fill that gap by donating classroom supplies.”
On average, teachers spend about $500 of their own money on supplies for their classrooms each year, and state funding for school supplies has been cut in half since 2008.
State Employees Credit Union (SECU) branches, state government offices and businesses across North Carolina will collect school supplies that teachers and students need most throughout the school year.
At the end of the drive, Communities In Schools of North Carolina chapters and AmeriCorps volunteers will distribute the supplies to school classrooms across the state.
In March, Cooper announced his budget proposal, Common Ground Solutions for North Carolina, which called for a $150 annual supply stipend for all North Carolina public school teachers to help offset the cost of purchasing supplies. The teacher supply stipend was not included in the budget passed by the North Carolina General Assembly.
Requested supplies include:
All types of paper
Pens, pencils, and dry erase markers
Tissues and sanitizing wipes