After learning from her family of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy, Five Towns native Maria Cavallo Benkirane knew she wanted to help.
The former Inwood and Cedarhurst resident, a 1991 graduate of Lawrence High School, now lives in Boca Raton, Fla. But members of her family live in Cedarhurst, Long Beach, New York City and Port Washington.
Benkirane, the science department chair and the advisor of the Builder’s Club at the American Heritage School in Delray Beach, Fla., enlisted the school’s faculty, staff, students and parents in a donation blitz that filled a 53-foot tractor trailer with 22 pallets of supplies ranging from water to diapers to garbage bags. The Builder’s Club is a community service-oriented group of students and teachers.
“The motto of the week was ‘Go bigger or go home,’” said Benkirane, who endured Hurricane Wilma in Florida in 2005, adding that she understands what people deal with after such a storm. She and her volunteer army collected the items the week of Nov. 12-16. The truck transporting the supplies from Florida arrived in the parking lot of Cedarhurst village hall last Sunday afternoon.
Lori Alf, a Floridian and the owner of National Air Cargo, a global trucking company, not only donated the use of the truck, but bought $11,000 worth of supplies to help fill it. Alf and her children, ninth-grader Caterina, seventh-grader Crister and fifth-grader Chapin, all of whom attend American Heritage School, were also part of the volunteer brigade that packed the truck.
“We did our best to get it filled,” said Alf, who added that the school’s Builder’s Club conducted a fundraiser to help construct a school in Uganda last year, and in 2010 club members helped charter a plane that took medical supplies to Haiti after the earthquake. “It’s a great thing for the kids — teaching the kids about giving back to the community,” she said. “It’s nice to see the next generation extending themselves when people need help.”
John McHugh, 1st assistant chief of the Lawrence-Cedarhurst Fire Department, who coordinated the arrival of the truck with National Air Cargo, said that Benkirane’s relief collection work was amazing. “It’s fantastic. She’s done a wonderful thing and put a lot of time and effort into it,” McHugh said. “It’s nice that people remember where they come from and do the right thing.”
McHugh contacted fire departments in the Five Towns, Meadowmere Park, East Rockaway, Island Park, Long Beach, Ocean-
side and Valley Stream as well the Five Towns Community Center, St. Joachim’s R.C. Church in Cedarhurst and VFW Post 1582 in Inwood. While some of the items were given to people who needed assistance and came to the parking lot on Sunday, McHugh said that the majority were divided among the organizations for distribution in their communities.