Warwick residents bring supplies to overwhelmed Louisiana school district

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:55

    WARWICK-Like many who heard of the horrendous conditions surrounding Hurricane Katrina, Deirdre Marshall and Ellen Soto, both residents of Warwick and teachers at Wanaque Elementary School in New Jersey, wanted to do something to help. Soto called a friend, also a teacher, who had moved to Praireville, La., which is 40 miles north and west of New Orleans. While the Dutchtown Primary School, where her friend teaches, was untouched, this was an area that had an influx of evacuees. By the week after Katrina hit, the school had almost 400 additional students who came in with little or nothing in the way of supplies. Soto and Marshall went into action. They talked to their principal, got the okay, and put out the call. They needed underwear, shoes, backpacks, clothes and school supplies. "We were overwhelmed by the response," said Marshall, who has taught third grade for 16 years. "Neither of us had ever done anything like this." The donations came pouring in. Marshall said they stored them in her classroom and other rooms in the school. They filled a 14-foot U-Haul, which was donated by the company her husband, Steve, works for - Harvard Maintenance in New York. "All of the teachers worked so hard for this. It was wonderful for the kids of Wanaque to be able to actively do something to help," said Marshall. With the U-Haul packed, Marshall and fellow teacher Dawn Sudol, hit the road for Louisiana on Saturday, Sept. 17, each driving in three hour shifts. This was the first time either of them had driven a truck. "We had no radio, unless we hit a bump, and then we'd get static," she said. So the pair sang songs, depending on where they were. Like when they hit Alabama, they started singing "Sweet Home Alabama," although they only knew about two lines of the song. They spent the night in Chattanooga, Tenn., and arrived in Praireville on Sunday night to a throng of Dutchtown Primary School parents, teachers, the superintendent and principal. "They threw a big party for us," said Marshall. Monday morning, Marshall and Sudol helped unload the truck with the help of just about everyone at the school. Included with their supplies was a copy of The Warwick Advertiser, Marshall said, that had three articles talking about the area's relief effort. "We just wanted to show the people of Louisiana that people up here really care about them," she said. After a tour of the school, the two women headed back home, this time via plane, thanks to an anonymous donor who paid for the two one-way tickets. Marshall said the donations they received were above and beyond what they thought. For example, UPS and Mailboxes Etc. donated the boxes. Sudol's husband works for Reiner Heating and Air Conditioning in New Jersey, which donated the gas for the trip down. The women went on a northern New Jersey radio station and the response there was just as overwhelming as the response from the people of Wanaque. The money they received is going down to Praireville shortly to help with any other supply needs. "The real heroes here were the teachers at Dutchtown," said Marshall. "Their class sizes just kept growing and growing and they didn't bat an eye. It was really a wonderful experience for us."