After learning about the devastation that Hurricane Harvey had inflicted on Texas, Preston native Tracy Raaen knew she had to do something.
“I’m a teacher, and I’ve seen how many kids this has affected. This is something I’m very passionate about,” Raaen said.
Raaen got some direction for how to help when she came across the Sun, Sand, & Second Grade Facebook page. The owner of the page and the blog it belongs to had set up an “Adopt a Classroom” project and was matching potential donors with classrooms that had been devastated by the hurricane. Raaen filled out the form requesting a classroom and was sent the information for the teacher of a first grade class in Richmond, Texas.
After the flood waters receded, the school still had eight inches of water left in it. The teachers and administration were left to scramble to find safe places where the classes could meet when they resumed. The teacher of the first grade class sent Raaen a list of the immediate needs of her classroom, and Raaen got to work.
On Labor Day weekend, she created an event for the project on Facebook, and it took off faster than she could have ever imagined. “Everything just fell into place,” volunteer and teacher MaryBeth Ostrom commented.
Volunteer Carol Solberg asked her network of friends on social media if anyone knew of a truck that would be heading to Texas and was given Matt Schmitz’s name. She messaged him and the details seemed to fall into place. Someone even gave him a $1,000 gas voucher to cover the cost of gas.
Harmony Chiropractic, KFIL Radio in Preston, The Granary in Lanesboro, Shooters in Wykoff along with Chatfield resident April McBroom, and Fountain resident Geri Shmeckpeper-Hanson all opened their homes and businesses as donation drop-off points.
A teacher at Fillmore Central herself, Ostrom happened to see a video post from Instagram influencer and YouTuber Collin Kartchner sharing how he and his wife were using the power of social media to help people affected by Hurricane Harvey. She shared his story on her social media accounts and tagged him in it. What happened next completely blew her away.
Kartchner reached out to Ostrom and asked how he could help with the first grade class that had been adopted, mentioning that he would be more than happy to share an Amazon wishlist if she had one. She loved the idea and immediately set one up and, taking it a step farther than the list that the teacher had sent out, added teacher resources, and a wide variety of things which she knew that many teachers end up purchasing for their classrooms out of their own pockets. Ostrom shared the Amazon wishlist in the Facebook event that Raaen had set up for the project, Helping Hands and Making a Difference, and Kartchner shared it with his followers as well. Kartchner even took the time to call Raaen and Ostrom himself to talk about the project and how he could help them with it.
Within just a few hours, everything on the list had been purchased and Ostrom had to add more products because so many people still wanted to help by donating something on the list. In two days time, $1,200 worth of classroom supplies had been purchased on Amazon and were being sent to Ostrom’s home to be added to the growing number of supplies that were being donated at the local drop-offs as well.
“This is what social media should be used for,” Ostrom pointed out.
In total, six towns in Fillmore County have pitched in to help supply the adopted first grade class from Richmond, Tex., with everything they need to start school up again.
“This could not have been possible without the communities’ support.” Raaen pointed out. “All the puzzle pieces just fell into place.”
While the first truck has left with supplies, Raaen and her helpers are actively working to set up an agreement with another one as donations keep rolling in.
The project has been eye-opening and revealed the true hearts of those who live in Preston and the surrounding communities. Many local children have even joined in with helping to collect donations. “Our job is to demonstrate to our kids what giving is all about,” Raaen said, adding that her own kids have been working hard to pack boxes and organize the donations.
In addition to the classroom supplies, Raaen is encouraging kids to write letters and draw pictures to the children in the Richmond first grade class which will be sent with the donations.
Visit the “Helping Hands and Making a Difference” Facebook page to learn more about the project and how you can help.