Dec. 21, 2018 By Laura Hanrahan
Students at I.S. 162 in Bushwick are helping to spread holiday cheer throughout their community this season.
The intermediate school students, along with a cohort of local residents and businesses, were able to help gift more than $1,400 in toiletry goodie bags to the 60 homeless teens at a Flushing Avenue family shelter as part of a neighborhood drive.
The effort, which launched earlier this month, started with Vanessa Melchiori, a local mom with a young child at P.S. 290 on Metropolitan Avenue.
Melchiori had already been organizing a toy drive for the younger children at the shelter when she realized that the teens would be missing out.
“I felt bad that the teenagers might not receive any presents, so I asked the director [of the shelter] for permission to start a project,” Melchiori said.
The local mom then posted to the BushRidge Parents Facebook group asking for volunteers to sponsor a teen as a Secret Santa in a toiletries gift bag drive.
The post was seen by Nevin Spinosa, a teacher at I.S. 162, who knew that the school’s student government and leadership clubs would be eager to help, and had already been trying to find a service project geared towards homelessness.
“Our students were very excited to take part in this cause,” Spinosa said.
A plan was soon put in place, where locals and others interested in the cause were asked to donate toiletries and self-care items from the teens’ wish list, like shampoo, lotion, toothbrushes, nail polish, and hand sanitizers, so that the school kids could then group together into gift bags.
The donated items were either dropped off at the Willoughby Avenue school or at Stay Forever, a Ridgewood boutique on Woodward Avenue whose owners also signed on to the drive after spotting Melchiori’s Facebook post.
Michelle Delgado and Lisa Jee, co-owners of the boutique, even printed fliers to post around about the drive and helped sign people up to the cause.
After more than a week of collecting donations, Karen Hayardeny, the leadership club teacher at I.S. 162, picked up the items from Stay Forever and used the more than $800 in cash that had been donated to buy even more gifts for the teens.
The students then wrapped the toiletries in 60 colorful gift bags and with handwritten notes, which will be delivered to the SCO Family of Services Shelter on Flushing Avenue this weekend by Melchiori and Hayardeny.
“I felt shocked that all of these people had so much kindness to help us out,” said Benny, a student at I.S. 162, of the donation drive. “I know if I was in that situation living in a shelter I would have needed that, too.”