Retired Ballston Spa teacher Craig Hodgson was teaching kindergarten in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated parts of Louisiana and Mississippi. One of his kindergarten students was very concerned that kids impacted by the hurricane weren’t going to have “good birthdays.” With help from the girl’s mother, his classroom was able to provide a kindergarten class in Waveland, Mississippi, with everything they needed to host a special party at the end of the year.
When Hurricane Harvey hit parts of Texas in August of this year, Hodgson, a bus attendant for the Ballston Spa School District, remembered that experience. He asked transportation coordinator Sherry Demers if the department could adopt a school in Houston.
“She said, ‘Absolutely, let’s do it,’” says Hodgson. “So I got online and filled out all of the paperwork for the Houston schools and never heard from them. And then Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico.” That’s when Hodgson reached out to Ballston Spa bus driver Cesar Garces, whose sister Jeanibell is an elementary school teacher in Puerto Rico.
“He told me that the school was still standing but they had lost everything and so had many of the children,” says Hodgson.
After receiving approval from Demers, Hodgson spearheaded a collection of school supplies for Jeanibell’s classroom. He came up with a list of items that would be beneficial to a classroom and hoped to collect enough supplies to fill several boxes. His colleagues in the transportation department began collecting supplies and donating cash to help offset shipping cost that were paid for out of Hodgson’s own pocket.
In the first week, he collected enough supplies to fill four boxes. The donations continued to pour in, and a total of 51 boxes were shipped over the course of six weeks. The boxes contained more than 6,700 items.
How does Hodgson know this? He kept a detailed inventory of everything that was donated–down to the last staple.
Hodgson was overwhelmed by the generosity of his colleagues and says, “I can’t say enough about this group of people. They really stepped up and put their whole hearts into it. It’s about people helping people.”
Garces says that both he and Jeanibell have also been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support. He explains that teachers and parents are responsible for reopening damaged schools in Puerto Rico. Jeanibell’s school opened just a few weeks ago, and she received so many supplies from the collection that she was able to share them with other teachers.
All of Garces’s family members survived the storm, but he went two weeks without hearing from them.
“It was terrible,” he says. “Terrible.”
After learning that his elderly mother had lost everything she owned, he wanted to travel to Puerto Rico to help her but, Jeanibell talked him out of it by telling him he would be just one more mouth to feed. At the time, she was waiting in line for up to eight hours a day to get ice, water, food, and money from the ATM.
He says his family is getting by “little by little.” They lived without water and electricity for several months, and his father’s electricity was restored just a few days ago. He asked both of his parents to come to New York to stay with him. Both chose to stay in Puerto Rico.
Garces smiles broadly as he describes the photos his sister has sent him—photos of smiling children who are proudly displaying supplies donated by the men and women he works with.
“I feel the warmth from them,” he says when discussing his colleagues. “They don’t care where you are from. It’s all about teamwork.”
Hodgson has set up a GoFundMe for anyone who wants to contribute towards purchasing additional supplies for the school. The collection will continue for the remainder of the school year.