At Middletown High School North, there are 61 students and staff members whose won't be in the place they called home for Christmas, after Hurricane Sandy severely damaged or totally wrecked their houses in Belford, Port Monmouth, and other parts of the Bayshore.
But the greater school community is doing what it can to embrace the families, in a show of support.
"They've lost everything," said Middletown HS North Guidance Counselor Stefanie Lefurge. "They lost the first floors of their homes, the yearbook, the sports equipment, clothes," she said.
Lefurge said she has been surprised how students who were affected by Sandy have shown reluctance to accept donations because they think others may need it more, and equally surprised by the compassion of their student peers who are witnessing what's it's like to suddenly lose everything. "I really feel its changed many of them for the better, in a positive way," she said.
The students and staff at the high school on Tindall Road are raising money, giving away Christmas cheer, and distributing donations. The Social Justice Committee, whose advisors are John Kerrigan and Lisa Weinstock, organized a Giving Tree of gift certificates to help needy families.
Junior Class Advisors Patti May and Brett Laskavitz turned their annual class fundraiser on Dec. 1 into a free day of diversion for storm-weary community. Working with the Middletown Teachers Education Association (MTEA) President Linda Guyer and Secretary Lorraine Schutt the class offered gingerbread house-making, craft, refreshments, and an introduction to Santa Claus, who reassured children he was still coming to town.
On Dec. 15, the schools community distributed live Christmas trees donated by Giannelli's of Holmdel. The MTEA purchased the extras: a stand, lights, garlands and decorations. More than 140 families, including staff members, who might not have had a tree, came that Saturday to cash in a coupon for Christmas cheer. Each family left with a bag of decorations distributed by cheerful students from Middletown HS South. Those who lost their cars got a special delivery from the school, and more than 100 trees were proffered to Union Beach.
Bayview School staffer Laurie Gentry of Highlands accepted a few small trees for her own storm-swamped home and the few neighbors still remaining in her ravaged neighborhood, which she called "a ghost town."
"I didn't know Christmas would be beautiful again," she said to MTEA's Guyer, who helped her load the trees into her truck. "Thanks to all of you, for this."
The Middletown High School South and MTEA-sponsored Hope for Holidays luncheon will be on Dec. 22, for all the affected families and staff members.
Student volunteers have given their time to the RAINE Foundation, operating out of the former Childrens Wear storefront in Hazlet, which was a Hurricane Sandy distribution center; at Croydon Hall relief center, and many other places in town that needed a hand. Lauren Spatz Melando of Middletown North served as a liaison between High School North and South to help organize the troops.
The school is also on the receiving end too. "We are not only getting help from one another in our community, but its crossing state lines too," said Principal Patricia Cartier
Guidance Counselor Dave Frick put out the word of the storm devastation in the Bayshore to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, and the admissions reps started sending donations from all over the country. Everything from monetary contributions, backpacks, t-shirts, pens, notebooks and other materials flowed in, which will be shared with other Bayshore schools.
There has also been support and generous donations for the Middletown North Relief Fund from the people behind Middletown Helps Its Own, Lincroft School, Nutswamp School, Middletown High School North Booster Club, Hope for Children Foundation, Croydon Hall and Best Buy of Holmdel.
"Each generation is going to have something it remembers," said Principal Cartier. "This will be it."