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“Our Town” students lead by example to help those less fortunate this holiday

Schools by: Joanne Kountourakis, December 14, 2022

Members of the Our Town community service club and their high school counterparts and advisors.

Student representatives in grades four through twelve gathered in the high school commons yesterday, to celebrate the culmination of a weeks-long effort to collect toys for local children in need this holiday season.

The students are part of Our Town, a districtwide community service club led by high school social studies teachers and Our Town club advisors, Dave Scott and Bill Slagle. Student representatives work with other students at the elementary, middle and high school levels to conduct community service projects. The group’s primary focuses this year are the holiday toy drive, several food drives, and the Relay for Life, an annual district tradition dedicated to rallying the community together in the fight against cancer.

Our Town has been an integral part of the district for over 20 years. Its goal, according to Mr. Scott, is “to unite students from all the schools in the district in a common mission of community service.”

For the holiday toy drive, student clubs including Our Town, the Law Club and the Key Club joined with the Children’s Law Bureau of the Legal Aid Society to assist Suffolk County’s neediest children. The Northport-East Northport Kiwanis Club also pitched in, collecting money and filling a special niche this year, shopping for the older kids in need.

Donations will soon be distributed to children in emergency foster care and homeless shelters, benefitting younger kids and teenagers right here in Suffolk County.

Our Town students at each school spent the past few weeks brainstorming ways to inform their communities about the toy drive. Their outreach included handmade fliers, school announcements and social media posts. Bright yellow collection boxes were placed at all of the district's schools, and in the Brosnan building; many of them were filled multiple times with new, unwrapped toys during the collection, thanks to the generosity of district families and other community members.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, December 13, all donations were brought by the student representatives and their families to Northport High School, where they were sorted into categories by student volunteers. The Our Town and other club students worked directly with law guardians and case workers to put together gift bags for specific children in their caseloads. Our Town student reps – and their families – were each handed a bag labeled with a gift recipient’s name, age, and gift preferences. The bags were then filled by the students, with toys and other gifts they thought suited the children in need.

“I think the awesome nature of the event… was that it’s cool to see older kids and younger kids doing something together,” said Mr. Slagle. “The little kids love coming to the high school. It’s fun to see them together.”

The ripple effect
In addition to the toys raised, the Our Town drive brought in over $3,000 in cash and gift card donations – a club record, said Mr. Slagle. He thanked Mr. Scott for doing some last-minute soliciting himself, and Stacy Rosenfeld-McMahon, an East Northport resident and district mom whose quick thinking on social media brought in $2,000 in donations in less than 24 hours. Stacy’s son Sam, who was at the event as a multiple club member, is a senior at the high school; when his mom posted on Northport High School Parent Facebook page, the community quickly responded with one donation after the other.

“I actually collected $1,950 and then a man in Target named John asked what I was collecting for,” Ms. Rosenfeld-McMahon told the Journal. “I told him and he handed me another $50 to make it an even $2,000, which I thought was really amazing.”

A family affair
Our Town has always encouraged family involvement, inviting parents and siblings to take part in events, as spectators or participants. Some high school students at the event last night, Mr. Slagle said, have been members of the Our Town club since elementary school, making this the eighth toy drive they’ve participated in. Other club members were younger, and appreciated the assistance of their parents as they navigated the many gift tables in the commons. Siblings ranging in age from kindergarten to third grade followed in their footsteps, quietly observing or actively participating in the gifting process.

This lets the younger kids “transition into seeing service and understanding service,” said Mr. Slagle. “And then [in time] the parents move to the background and the students do service on their own, and enter service clubs we have here at the high school.” Once a part of the Our Town club, he said “you’re never out.

Members of the Abbass family, representing grades kindergarten through ninth, with gift bags of presents for children in need.