By Connie Leinbach
Former Ocracoke Island resident Barbara Hardy wanted to do something special for the children of Ocracoke who had just had their world rocked by devastating flooding from Hurricane Dorian.
Hardy, whose Secret Garden Gallery at 144 W. Main Street in (little) Washington had been an Ocracoke shop for 26 years until the end of 2017, organized a fundraiser recently to purchase $300-gift cards for each Ocracoke student.
Publicity was mostly via Facebook, she said, and in several weeks she met her goal and raised $62,000 to purchase the gift cards, with some left over.
“This was directed at the children but the gift cards were for the parents to help Santa,” she said. Gift cards were chosen as the donation vehicle since islanders buy so many items online.
On Dec. 10, she brought 147 gift cards plus $40 in cash for each of the students in Ocracoke School.
Oh, plus one for Lachlan Howard, who is home schooled and also for nine students who left Ocracoke after the storm since school was out for more than a month. That made a total of gifts for 157 students, she said.
In addition, 24 $25-cards went to every school staff and faculty member, Hardy said.
“I was so overwhelmed by the magnitude of what was going on on the island (after the storm),” she said, noting that she was a single parent once and remembered how any help she got as a parent of growing children was welcome.
She was amazed at the response.
“I had people from all over the country donate,” she said. “It was interesting. People told me stories of Ocracoke and why it was special. One woman said: ‘Kids, Christmas, Ocracoke. You pushed all of my buttons.’”
One family told her that they talked about this fundraiser during their Thanksgiving meal.
“This is a family that has a strong connection to Ocracoke,” she said. “They knew us from the shop, and they ponied everyone up and donated $1,800. That was the largest amount.”
Hardy said all but about $10 was dispersed and before closing the bank account and giving the balance to the school she will wait for any stragglers.
Ocracoke School Principal Leslie Cole said at an Ocracoke Civic & Business Association meeting Dec. 18 that 60 percent of the teachers were displaced by the storm and 40 percent of the kids.
“So, it’s been a rough couple of months for them,” she said.
Cole called Hardy the “No. 1 Elf” this year and was amazed that Hardy had raised so much through social media.
“I knew we were special,” Cole added, “but, Wow. She exceeded it.”