One by one, the bags and boxes started piling up outside of Highland Regional High School Tuesday afternoon. With each trip between the gym and a waiting truck, the pile grew a little larger and so did the evidence of Gloucester Township’s generosity.
By the time it was over, Highland students and staff stuffed a 17-foot U-Haul to the brim with supplies and donations for people displaced by Superstorm Sandy.
With barely enough room to wedge in the last item, a highchair, the teens and adults loaded hundreds of pairs of jeans, warm clothing, shoes, water, food and even televisions and lamps. The U-Haul—and a busload of students in tow—will head down to Wildwood this morning, where Highland students will hand off the donations to their peers at Wildwood High School for distribution to evacuees.
Highland’s Sandy food and clothing drive was the brainchild of athletic director Chris Dziczek, who organized the weeklong drive. But the credit, she said, goes to the many Highland students, staff members, residents and Chews Landing Fire Department. All told, the clothing and bedding donations alone filled more than 75 giant trash bags, not to mention a mountain of food donations.
“It’s not necessarily that Wildwood was devastated,” Dziczek told students Tuesday. “It’s that so many people who lost their homes came to Wildwood. When they get off a bus, some of those people only have one Wawa bag of possessions with them. Think about that.”
Dziczek teamed up with Wildwood High School, a school in Highland’s athletic conference, because the town hosts so many evacuees in its hotels and motels. Several Wildwood High families and staff members also lost their homes in Sandy’s wake.
“I hate when people measure disasters by the number of people killed or the dollar amount of damage,” Dziczek said. “If even one person is negatively affected, that person needs our attention. And our kids were more than willing to help.”
A dozen students turned out after school Tuesday to load the U-Haul and even more planned to make the trip Wednesday. Among them was Ahmaad Randall, a senior.
“I figured if it was me in this situation, I’d want people to help out and donate,” Randall said, slinging bags weighed down with winter clothing. “I want people to feel at home. The kids who don’t have a home to go to don’t have it so good right now.”
Highland students see themselves in Wildwood students putting their lives together post-Sandy, Dziczek said.
“These are a caring group of kids. They didn’t hesitate,” she said. “In some ways, you do feel selfish or guilty for feeling good about this because we’re responding to a disaster. But it’s proper to feel good and I want them to know they’re making a difference.”