“No matter how much pain I’m in after cutting this wood, [Lara] is in a lot more pain than me,” Oceansider Howie Duryea said after his wife, Caryn, expressed concern about the strain on his back from chopping piles of spare lumber into firewood.
“We would normally bring it to a dump,” Caryn said of the extra wood. But in the wake of Lara’s accident — the 14-year-old Oceanside High School freshman whose family asked that she be identified only by her first name, suffered “massive trauma” according to police, after being struck by a car on Foxhurst Road, near Harvey Avenue on the morning of Sept. 8 — the Duryeas decided to put the scrap to use.
The couple’s company, Howie’s C&H Tree Service, started a “Logs for Lara” fundraising campaign. “Instead of throwing out this good wood,” Caryn said, “we decided to chop it into firewood and sell it by the wheelbarrow at $20.” So far, they have raised about $2,300.
“Lara’s health is improving each day,” the girl’s family said in a statement. “However, we have a very long and challenging road ahead of us. Your thoughts, prayers and continued support are greatly appreciated and are directly benefiting Lara’s recovery and rehabilitation … Our family also extends our sincere gratitude and appreciation to all the people who came to Lara’s aid and for those who continue to care for her.”
In addition to the Duryeas’ efforts, many of the campaigns to support Lara have come out of the Oceanside School District. Rob Blount, the high school football coach, said that the team “tried to make something happen as quickly as we could.” On the day of the accident, the first Friday of school, Blount said, “We had a game in Massapequa, and we dedicated the game ball to her.”
Blount and the team also ordered 1,000 “rally towels” with the hashtag “#LaraStrong” printed on them. They sold the towels for $5 each, and have raised about $2,000 so far. Blount said that he tries to get his players to think about all of their fellow students, not just the ones who play football, as being part of their “team.”
Lara’s freshman classmates have also created a T-shirt, to be sold during Homecoming, with the words “Lara Strong, Oceanside Strong” on the front, according to Patrick Turk, OHS’s director of student activities. “We’ll see how well we do, and then we’ll decide how to move forward,” Turk said, adding, “This is a long journey for Lara, so we want to be able to continue to help however we can.”
Other school district fundraising campaigns include a car wash at the middle school and a bracelet sale, dubbed “Looms for Lara,” organized by a group of first-graders at School No. 3, which has raised about $850.
At the high school, video and broadcast teacher Audrey Miller approached one of her students, OHS senior Jessica Jacoby, about making a video on the LaraStrong campaigns. “I remember how we had [Hurricane] Sandy, and the community was able to come together and help people in need,” Jacoby said. “I wanted to make something to uplift people … Hopefully, this video will be shared enough to help the family raise enough money.” “Oceanside High School — #LaraStrong” can be found on YouTube.
Oceanside’s kindergarten students participated in a “Peace - Love - Hope” project in which they decorated postcards and wrote notes that package some of their own peace, love, and hope to be sent to Lara.
Her family expressed gratitude for the community support, saying “We would like to thank our family, friends, Oceanside schools and community as well as the many surrounding communities and states for the tremendous amount of support we have received during this very difficult time for which we are forever grateful.”
The bulk of the money raised has come by way of a campaign created by Lara’s aunt on the crowdsourcing website GoFundMe. As the Herald went to press, 1,059 people had contributed a total of almost $70,000 in 22 days.
In addition to co-owning the tree-removal service, Caryn is also a school crossing guard, and says the intersection where Lara was hit has a reputation. “The day before the accident,” she said, “I watched some man, busy on his cellphone, and he flew right past that stop sign on Harvey like it never existed.” She also noted that since the accident, drivers seem a bit more cautious in that area. “Now when I’m around there, everybody seems to be making sure they stop at the stop sign.”
“It is well known to local residents that accidents frequently occur at this intersection, which have directly impacted many families,” Lara’s family said in the statement, noting that it was important to them that what happened to Lara never happens again.
“We hope that Lara’s tragic accident is a catalyst to bring forth positive changes which will improve the safety of our children and our community.”