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By Richard Taylor and Peter Vankevich
Hatteras and Ocracoke islands grew closer on Friday as volunteers from the Cape Hatteras Secondary School DECA Club and friends from up and down that island brought more than 3,000 Christmas ornaments and other decorations to Ocracoke.
DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America) is a nationwide association of marketing students that encourages the development of business and leadership skills through academic conferences, competitions and local public service activities.
The event was the “Giving Tree” inside the Ocracoke Community Center and any and all Ocracoke islanders were welcome to shop for handmade or gently used ornaments and other Christmas décor.
All the way around the room, everyone witnessed love in action.
“We put a post out on social media that we were collecting handmade ornaments in support of the Giving Tree program, which some of our DECA kids hosted,” said one of the organizers, Antoinette Mattingly from Kinnakeet Clay Studio in Avon. “We received over 3,000 ornaments from all over the country.”
The ornaments on her table were made by professional potters and professional painters, by all sorts of artists, by classrooms and art teachers, special needs classrooms and families, she said.
“It was the neatest thing,” she said. “We even received 100 little angels from Germany.”
She herself made about 70 ornaments, and Hatteras Girl Scout Troop members came to her studio and made about 150 at an ornament-making party.
Mattingly said the response on Ocracoke had been incredible.
“People have been so grateful that folks from all over the country took the time to make these ornaments,” she said. “We were trying to recreate a tradition of giving away a variety of handmade ornaments for people who may have lost their own (in the hurricane).”
The project started in late October.
“We brought three trucks and a large trailer of donations here yesterday,” she said. “Multiple vehicles carrying donations of trees, ornaments and lights came from all over eastern N.C., especially Little Washington.”
Hatteras DECA student Rubie Shoemaker loved the community service aspect of the Giving Tree program. “It just makes you feel so good because we’ve done a lot to help y’all,” she said.” It makes us get closer as a community.”
DECA member Laya Barley Greeted folks at the door. “We have been collecting donations since after the storm and the past couple of days they’ve been coming in, tons of donations filling up classrooms,” she said. “We came over here this morning and set it all up and at first we were pretty worried that enough people would come out. But about 2:50 the door opened and everyone was coming in–families after families and children. It was so heartwarming and just amazing to see everyone happy to be here. It just really restored the Christmas spirit and there’s nothing more we could ask to see everybody here and it really did make the project worthwhile.”
DECA student John Contestable did not anticipate so many islanders would come looking for free Christmas décor. “Honestly,” he said, “I didn’t really expect this much of a turnout. I’m really impressed. It’s really awesome to see how much everyone was so appreciative of what we did for them.”
Leon Jennette III, a junior and DECA member also said he was nervous the day before that there would not be a good turnout for the ornaments, a feeling that quickly dissipated as folks started lining up well before the 3 p.m. opening. “I’m just glad to help our the community in a time of need,” he said.
Hatteras business and computer science teacher Foster Mattingly, Antoinette’s sister, is the
advisor to the Cape Hatteras DECA Club. She graduated from Cape Hatteras in 2012. The year before, as a DECA member, she helped those who suffered from the effects of Hurricane Irene and used that experience for this project.
“Crystal Hardt who has a house on Ocracoke was very helpful in helping with the coordination,” she said. “DECA students even brought baked goods and hot cocoa for happy shoppers and John Connor with Connor’s Supermarket (in Buxton) donated much of the refreshments today”.
Ocracoke School second-grade teacher Claudia Lewis was among many islanders who benefited from the donations in a time of need and was happy for the opportunity to replace lost holiday items.
“It was such a kind and generous gesture from the Hatteras DECA Club and others,” she said. “It meant that my family would be able to fully decorate for Christmas, because some of our things were stored in our outside shed and therefore lost to the flood. I was grateful that someone thought about us for the holiday season.”
Also on Friday, a dozen or so staff members from the Beaufort-Hyde Partnership in Washington came to the Berkley Barn to ensure all Ocracoke elementary students were remembered by Santa.
The partnership hired Plum Pointe Kitchen to prepare entrées, gourmet mac and cheese and freshly cut fruit for about 70 students.
Parents provided the Partnership with lists of items their children needed, such as warm jackets, pajamas and shoes. Every child was gifted a quality board game by the Partnership.
Students participated in activities at six centers. All were asked to write letters to Santa, which teachers delivered to Postmaster Celeste Brooks. Students also decorated cookies, Christmas stockings and a seasonal ornament.
Assistant Principal Mary McKnight coordinated the event.
Leftover Giving Tree items were given away at the abbreviated Festival Latino de Ocracoke Saturday at the Berkley Barn. The smaller than usual festival was rescheduled from November due to a nor’easter.
Families gathered all afternoon at Berkley, enjoying food and family activities. Locally prepared rice, chicken and pork dishes were served well into the evening. Despite the winter-like weather outside, the high-energy Latino band “K-Lidad Musical” kept some 100 attendees warm and dancing inside. Ocracoke Alive sponsored the event.
Organizer David Perez said most of Ocracoke’s Hispanics attended the scaled-down Latino festival sometime during the day.
Perez said Dorian had hit the island’s Latino community hard and that most faced significant challenges after the Hurricane.
“We try to help each other, but it’s hard, getting help for those that lost their homes from Dorian,” he said.
Perez, a local contractor, said he has helped members of the Hispanic community with Dorian repairs, either free or at reduced rates. “I help where I can,” he said, “because people didn’t plan for this.”
Antonia Ortiz, Sara Rodriguez, Edith Trejo, Rozio Trejo and Veronica Flores also helped with festival organization.
Ode to Hatteras Island
By Martha and Richard Taylor
And what to our wondering eyes did appear,
But an amazing display of good will and great cheer!
Many tables were filled with ornaments, hand-crafted,
And everything Christmas to fill up our baskets.
On the counter sat cookies and cocoa divine,
While we happily dreamed of the goodies we’d find.
The true love of Christmas abundantly came forth,
Provided by our generous neighbors to the north.
Social media communities far-and-wide were told,
“Ocracokers need something wonderful to hold.
Please send Christmas treasures, new or second hand.”
And behold, hundreds responded from all over the land.
By truck and by ferry, the gifts they came in
To help a small island recover again.
Hundreds came smiling. Hundreds went home.
Hatteras Island shared its bounty. We were not alone.
Please know Hatteras Island, if a storm does come near it,
We’ll strive to return your generosity of spirit!
And I swear as I rode ‘round our village tonight,
We heard, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”