The scene at the Baldwin Firehouse was one of coordinated chaos on Saturday.
As snow fell, roughly a dozen Girl Scouts from Baldwin Troop 2427 were hurrying here and there, gathering clothes, soaps, shampoos and gift cards, among other items, and boxing them for shipment to hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. In all, the girls collected $4,430 in gift cards.
The event was the culmination of three months of work, during which the scouts planned events, organized collections and asked the local community for donations, all to help those whose lives were turned upside down by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
While national attention has shifted and people across the country have largely forgotten about the the storms’ devastating effects, the scouts have gone above and beyond, in keeping with their: “To help where I am needed” and “to protect and improve the world around me.”
“We started our troop meeting in early September and asked the girls what they wanted to accomplish this year,” Troop Leader Rhonda Maco said. “And across the board, they all said they wanted to donate, and they wanted to focus on community service.”
She was impressed by the spirit of generosity and creativity displayed by her scouts, Maco said, emphasizing that they were the ones who suggested fundraising for a good cause. “In prior years, they would say they wanted to do events or go [on trips], but they were very specific, and I thought that was a sign they’re maturing and that they can handle something like this . . . As soon as the hurricanes happened, I contacted Ridgewood Savings Bank, which we had a partnership with already, and they were very quick to just say, ‘Let’s do it.’”
“We’re blessed,” Maco said. “Even within Baldwin, we posted on a couple of Baldwin sites, and the donations came pouring in from here and surrounding communities.”
The girls posted fliers listing items they needed to collect, including cleaning supplies, diapers, baby wipes, formula, tissue, paper towels, batteries, backpacks, toothbrushes, toothpaste, razors, bath towels, blankets, food, milk, gloves and insect repellent.
“I think it’s amazing, the generosity of people,” said Elaine Notarstefano, leader of Baldwin’s Girl Scout Troop 2315, which came to Saturday’s event to lend a land. “When there’s people in need, how people just step up is amazing . . . It’s really nice to see people wanting to help other people.”
When the donations started coming in faster and in greater numbers than the girls of Troop 2427 anticipated, they ran into a stumbling block: They didn’t have any place to store them. “We didn’t realize we were going to get so much,” Maco said. “Once we got the items from Ridgewood Saving Bank, we went to the church we were supposed to store them at, and they said we could only keep it there for two days.”
In a moment of panic, Maco approached the Baldwin Fire Department, asking whether it could collect donations until the troop was prepared to send them out. “We came to this firehouse, unannounced, begging, asking if we can store the items, and they mobilized and got it done for us,” she said.
“They called us and had no place to store them, so we said we’d give them a room for two weeks,” Baldwin Fire Commissioner Michael McDermott said.
Maco said that the fire department’s response was nothing short of amazing.
Throughout the collection process, she made sure her scouts understood how important it was to help those who needed it. “That’s really what I wanted to show the girls, that we’re very fortunate, and you really need to help those who are in need,” she said.
“I think it was really great that we got to collect so much stuff for this cause,” Kate Heuser, 10, said. “Some people aren’t as lucky as we are, and with the hurricanes, [people] lost a lot of stuff, so they need a lot to survive.”
“I think the collection is really important, and I think that it’s really good that all these people donated for Puerto Rico and all these places that needed it,” said Rhonda Maco’s daughter, Nia, who is 10.
“It was a little difficult,” she added. “But it was worth it all the way, because you get to help people in the end.”
“It’s actually pretty fun when you get to help people and be with your friends and help with community service,” said 10-year-old Kayleigh Casabona, 10. “We’ve done everything we could. I feel pretty good about it.”
The Hispanic Civic Association will deliver a portion of the donations to Puerto Rico, while the Salvation Army will send the rest to Texas and Florida.
The collections served as a practical lesson for the girls about the spirit of giving, and there is no better time of year to impart the importance of charitable giving, scout leaders said. “We want to teach the girls that when you grow up, this is what you do,” Notarstefano said. “This is the kind of adult you should be, the kind of person that helps other people.”