Pack a Backpack school supply campaign on Ocracoke NC
Jeremy Piland, Patricia Piland, Jeanie Owens and Michael Shoemaker help unpack and organize the hundreds of packages sent by well-wishers to Ocracoke school students. Photo: C. Leinbach

To read an Ocracoke School story about a shortage of education supplies in the early 70s, click here.

By Connie Leinbach

School supplies for Ocracoke School students continued to stack up Thursday from well-wishers all over the country.

Ocracoke School fifth-grade teacher Jeanie Owens, who led the charge in obtaining help for Ocracoke students, was back in the Ocracoke School multi-purpose room for a third day of unpacking hundreds of boxes.

“We’ve delivered nine ‘post cons’ full of packages,” Ocracoke’s Postmaster Celeste Brooks, said Thursday, noting that the day’s mail had not yet been sorted. Post cons are open trolleys used to move mail around. 

The packages began arriving early this week after Owens posted on Facebook several days ago that if people wanted to help the island after the power crisis that shut down the island to tourists from July 28 to Aug. 4 the island would welcome school supplies in her campaign titled “Pack a Backpack.”

Most island families work in the tourism industry, primarily between the months of April and November, with some holding two, or more jobs to meet their families’ financial needs throughout the year, Owens said in the post.

Fifth-grade teacher Jeanie Owens thanks Robin Turner for her donation of school supplies, including items from Wal-Mart in Washington, N.C., and tooth brushes from Zeno Edwards. Photo: C Leinbach

In the height of the tourist season, the power outage occurred July 27 when construction crews rebuilding the Bonner Bridge accidentally damaged the main electric transmission cables. Ocracoke and Hatteras were powered by portable generators until the cables could be repaired.

Owens and helpers Patricia Piland, Jeremy Piland, Patricia’s son, and new high school social studies teacher Michael Shoemaker unpacked the myriad gifts of classroom supplies, tissues, cleaners paper goods, new backpacks and more.

Ocracoke students will be able to “shop” for free supplies after all of the items are unpacked and sorted. That will be the afternoon of Aug. 18 and the morning of Aug. 19.

The expected  school’s enrollment from kindergarten to grade 12 is 170 students, down from 188 last year.

“We want to make sure all of the students have everything they need on their supply lists,” Owens said.  “Every student will get a new backpack.”

After school Principal Leslie Cole decides what the school needs, the school will check with Hatteras and Mattamuskeet schools about their needs.

“A lot of people have already donated to Hatteras based on this,” Owens said about the outpouring of support for Ocracoke. 

Then as a school, they will consider how to pay this bounty forward, but for now, Owens is ecstatic, overwhelmed and amazed by the donations.

“We want everyone to know how extremely grateful we are,” she said.

As the packages come in, Owens is keeping all of the addresses from the donors and will work up a plan to send thank-you notes, which might take several weeks.

New Ocracoke School social studies teacher Michael Shoemaker joins in unpacking a multitude of gifts of school supplies from people from all over the country who love Ocracoke. Photo: C. Leinbach

The teachers helping were amazed at the gifts and noted that they will not have to purchase supplies out of their own pockets this year.

Flavia Burton, the ESL teacher, noted that every year she has taught she has spent up to $1,000 a year on supplies for her students.

Shoemaker agreed, saying in his prior school in Memphis, Tenn., he, too, purchased pencils and notebooks for his students.

“All teachers everywhere do this,” said Patricia Piland, Ocracoke’s middle school science teacher, about their footing some of the bills for school supplies, yet teachers can only take $250 off their taxes for school supplies.  On Ocracoke, where classrooms are smaller, teachers have a smaller outlay.

“It’s harder when you have 30 kids,” Piland said.

“It’s part of being a teacher,” Burton added. “You either do it or you do without.”

On Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper launched the Governor’s School Supply Drive from Aug. 14 to Sept. 8 to help address unmet classroom needs in North Carolina public schools.

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, Cooper said in a press release.

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.

To read the previous story, click here.

One of the many notes included in the packages of school supplies sent to Ocracoke in the wake of the power crisis July 27 to Aug. 4 that shut down the island to visitors. Photo: C. Leinbach
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