Tuesday morning more than 600 winter coats, both heavy and light, 150 hats and scarves, and 200 pairs of gloves were gathered. Add to that 50 turkeys and Thanksgiving baskets for 100 families, half of whom are new arrivals in New Haven and the U.S.
But the real story Tuesday morning at the Fair Haven School went beyond generous numbers. It was in the face of third-grader Antonio Sierra as he picked gray gloves to match his gray coat because they are cool colors and then high-fived Yale Police Officer Roberto Arango, who had helped him with the selections.
And in seventh-grader Eleanna Vargas packing the bags of stove top chicken, beans, and mixed vegetables for the schools’ needy families, an experience that she said solidified her interest in growing up to be a social worker.
The scene was the annual coat drive at the 800-kid Fair Haven School on Grand Avenue.
Tireless kindergarten teachers Leslie Habeow, Annamarie McCarthy, and Marisa Laudano took the lead in this year’s drive.
They gathered donations of money or coats from staff, families, friends, and spent countless hours purchasing, hauling, arranging, and sorting winter clothing — new and lightly used —t o keep their kids warm as the cold weather approaches.
The coats and turkeys and bags of food came from adrive organized by the seniors in the Amity Regional High School National Spanish Honor Society and Spanish Five class.
This marks the tenth year, Assistant Principal Monica Morales said, of the partnership with the Amity kids. It began in 2008 when Fair Haven bilingual teacher Doug Bowman met Andrea Regan, a teacher at Amity High School, at Southern Connecticut State University.
Fifty Amity kids also come to Fair Haven several times a year to practice their Spanish, tutor, and interact with the younger Fair Haveners.
“If any kid starts school cold, they won’t end up that way,” said Morales, who early on Tuesday morning had loaded up her jeep with coats and canned good at Amity High and had driven them to Fair Haven.
Teachers, who had identified families who could benefit from the donations, sent kids in small groups and by grade down to the first-floor classroom where all the items were arrayed.
The kids didn’t shop alone. At least seven or eight members of the Yale Police Department were on hand. Like loving salespeople—where the price is always zero! — they helped the kids try on clothing and choose which coat, scarf, gloves, or hat to settle on.
There were also New Haven police and fire personnel, parents, and other teachers circulating among the kids.
“I love the color,” third-grader Maya Pinchu said to Yale police officer Martha Ross.
“Let’s [now] go and find you a hat and gloves,” Ross responded.
Fair Haven School Principal Heriberto Cordero said it is no accident that over the years local officers and firefighters have been invited to be part of the drive not only as generous contributors of items, but also to help the kids try stuff on and to choose.
“Officers can meet the kids, and kids can see the officers in a different light,” he said.
Yale Police Officer Robert Arango helped Antonio Sierra find gloves of the right gray to match his smart new coat. Arango is a friend of Fair Haven kindergarten teacher Leslie Habelow, one of the main organizers of the drive. At her invitation he had corralled at least eight other officers to accompany him.
Meanwhile, over in one of the basement rooms of the school, Eleanna and a half dozen other social justice-minded seventh and eighth-graders were counting out and placing one can of green beans, one of corn, one pork and beans, one sweet mixed vegetables, and one stove top chicken, along with a box of cereal into each and every bag.
“I like the opportunity to help people. If they need help, if they’re homeless, they’re all human, we’re all [basically] the same,” she said, and then went back to her work.