Youngsters take part in heartwarming storm relief effort

Hillary Lipow's first-grade class celebrates a Thanksgiving feast while making blankets for hurricane victims in the Rockaways. Photo by Steve Mosco
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Leave it to a child to simplify relief needs in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.

“It’s cold and people need to be warm,” said Lily Podejma, a student in Laurie Klein’s first-grade class at PS 101 in Forest Hills.

The wide-eyed 6-year-old was one of many children from first- through fifth-grade participating in relief efforts aimed at helping victims still facing dire struggles following last month’s devastating storm.

As the children shared in the school’s annual Thanksgiving feast last week, they displayed gratitude and appreciation for their parents’ love and teachers’ understanding. But beyond the traditional trimmings of the autumnal celebration, the students also doled out hearty helpings of goodwill and compassion.

The students at PS 101, hidden away in a residential neighborhood at 2 Russell Place, showed they are good neighbors to storm victims by participating in a program to make and distribute warming fleece blankets to those suffering the nighttime chill in areas still without heat and electricity in Far Rockaway.

Co-class parent coordinators Mary Beth Bentaha and Jennie Blasser spread the idea to other class parents as well as teachers to craft warming blankets and deliver them to a Federal Emergency Management Agency warming center on Beach 129th Street. The warming blankets were crafted by tying fleece blankets together.

“We can’t bring the kids to Far Rockaway to clean mucky basements, so this was a way to bring home for them a sense of social responsibi­lity,” said Bentaha, whose son Tao and daughter Tassa participated in the project. “This storm did not just mean five days off from school — we wanted them to understand that a lot of people just like them are doing very badly right now.”

The blankets required no sewing to fabricate and instead were knotted together at fringed edges. The youngsters enthusiastically participated, with some of the older students using math to figure out exactly how many families would benefit from their efforts.

Marybeth Grimpel’s gifted fifth-grade class calculated that their efforts would directly help 150 families.

“It’s wintertime and they need warmth,” said Laura Moon, a 10-year-old in Grimpel’s class. “We really should appreciate what we have and give something back.”

In Danielle Carter’s fourth-grade class, students split into groups to maximize their blanket-making potential. Carter said the students in her class related to some of the victims and they were most troubled by the news that some of the younger victims were still unable to go back to their schools.

“The children have been very empathetic,” said Carter. “They know that some kids aren’t even able to go back to their schools. That is something they can understand and this project gives them the opportunity to give back in a meaningful way.”

Helping those children without warmth or their own school this holiday was the main goal of Hope Monnes, the school’s interim acting principal.

“This project was a simple idea, but it took a very collaborative effort involving the parents and the teachers,” said Monnes, who believes the project will grow and evolve next year. “Everyone here will learn from this experience in some way. It was a creative way of doing something and we worked together to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Updated 1:21 am, November 29, 2012
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