SARASOTA, FL – When the Hershorin Schiff Community Day School staff and students returned to school on September 18 – after the hiatus in the wake of Hurricane Irma – it didn’t take long for the school’s philanthropic spirit to kick into high gear. In fact, it was just a matter of hours before the community pulled together to help farm workers in Naples, where the hurricane roared ashore.
Upon learning of the plight at American Farms in Naples, where most of the greenhouse structures were almost completely destroyed, Community Day organized the “Fill the Van Hurricane Relief Drive,” a 36-hour benefit. By the end of business on September 19, the school had collected non-perishable food and items including toilet paper, paper towels, diapers, pet food, personal care items, and cases upon cases of water. They filled two U-Hauls, a minivan, and the school’s cargo van with goods to help the 100 farm workers employed by the grower.
American Farms, which specializes in annual, perennial, specialty and holiday plants, is made up of approximately 100 acres. It delivers to independent garden centers, box stores, landscape contractors, developers, resorts, and theme parks.
The farm’s connection to Sarasota is through Community Day volunteer leader and supporter Ed Rosenthal, whose company, Florikan, supplies the farm with pesticide-free fertilizer – American Farms was Florikan’s first major client. The owner, Jim Pugh, and Rosenthal began doing business together in 1981 and have become friends over the years. After the storm, Rosenthal was aghast to hear of the destruction at the farm and contacted Community Day head of school Dan Ceaser to see if there was anything the school community could do.
The food and goods were delivered to Naples on September 21, the first day of Rosh Hashanah. It was a fitting act of community service on one of Judaism’s most holy days, when Jews are inspired to repent and dedicate themselves to living a life of righteousness.
“Going out there, we didn’t know what to expect – there was so much damage: tree limbs everywhere, flower pots scattered across the ground, the structures torn apart. It was hard to believe that stuff like that could happen so close to where we are,” said eighth-grader Megan Meese. “But I felt really good about helping, especially on Rosh Hashanah. Instead of sitting in temple reading about the values we should live by and the good deeds we should do, we went out and did them.”
“I feel so lucky that we didn’t have to go through what they did,” added Megan’s younger sister, Gabrielle. “It was so sad to see all of the greenhouses in pieces and the flooding on the streets.”
The sisters were especially struck by one of the first actions taken by the farm staff immediately after the storm passed – even before taking on repairs on the grounds, they purchased and flew a brand new American flag.
“Many of our students are fortunate to lead relatively privileged lives, free of hunger, homelessness, or other forms of insecurity. A focus of our program is to immerse the children in service learning, so they can learn the responsibility and joy of doing good for others in need,” said Ceaser. “In just 36 hours, our families and leadership filled four vehicles with items that will tangibly benefit those who have suffered great loss in the wake of the storm. I’m so proud of our school community.”
The Hershorin Schiff Community Day School, which serves students in preschool through eighth grade, is a Jewish day school that welcomes students of all faiths. For more information, go to communityday.org or call (941) 552-2770.