Posted October 10, 2016
The Plymouth School District sent two semi-loads of help and hope to the Livingston Parish School District in Louisiana, which was devastated by flooding in August.
“I was simply in a state of ‘wow’ the last few weeks of the donation process,” said Plymouth High School drama teacher Janet DeJean Newton, who spearheaded the effort. “So many gifts of school supplies and learning materials and library books began to show up, but almost more importantly, so many people stopped by to help box up and prepare the donations for shipping.”
Mrs. Newton has lived in Wisconsin for nearly 30 years, but was born in Louisiana and still has family there. The homes of her sister and her cousin are among the 146,000 – many of which were not in flood zones – damaged in what is being called a 500-year flood.
Frustrated by a lack of national media coverage, Mrs. Newton decided to do what she could to help and secured permission from district administration to “adopt” the hard-hit Livingston Parish School District. Donations of school supplies, backpacks, educational materials, and gently used educational games and books soon began pouring in, eventually filling 28 pallets.
Johnsonville Foods and Sargento Cheese each donated use of a semi-truck and driver to take donations to Livingston Parish, where 15 of its 40 schools were damaged.
PHS staff, community members and employees from Johnsonville and Sargento helped load the trucks Sept. 30, embodying excitement and enthusiasm despite the rainy morning. “Watching the camaraderie of this eclectic group and natural team effort was heartwarming and a reassurance that people are inherently good and always willing to lend a helping hand when they can,” Mrs. Newton said.
The trucks arrived in Louisiana three days after leaving Wisconsin. “I am forever changed by the outpouring of good will that has come our way,” Louisiana Principal John Foster wrote to Mrs. Newton. “I know that good people outnumber the bad thousands to one.”
The relationship between the districts can continue to grow, thanks to a “Shoebox Penpal” project that Mrs. Newton started in conjunction with the donation drive. Plymouth-area students (and adults) were invited to write letters to their Louisiana peers that were placed in shoeboxes filled with items for individual Louisiana students. The boxes – which numbered about 100 – included a postage-paid postcard so the recipients can write back. “We are looking forward to hearing back from our new ‘penpals,’” Mrs. Newton said.
Other groups and individuals signed on to help with the effort, including Pulaski Community School District, Chris Schneider and Neenah Paper, N & M Transfer Company, St. John the Baptist School, St. John Lutheran Church, Redeemer Lutheran Church, Elkhart Lake-Glenbulah School District, Plymouth Intergenerational Center, Plymouth Rotary Club, Lori Hellmer and LEWSPA International, Bethlehem Lutheran School of Sheboygan, First United Lutheran Church of Sheboygan, Target of Kohler, Book Heads in Plymouth, WalMart of Plymouth, Kim Neising of Plymouth Public Library, First Immanuel Lutheran Church and School of Cedarburg, Local Girl Scout Troop 8594, James and Cynthia Flanagan, Kathleen Ballwhan, Donna Hahn, the Rev. Arlan and Sharon Schlundt, Elizabeth Madgwick of the Sheboygan School District, Sheridan Student Council in Sheboygan, Fond Du Lac Schools, Colonial Columns, The PHS Jolly Pranksters Comic Improv Team, Steve and Lori Tervo, Janet Miller, TMJ4, William and Kathleen Zelm, Subway of Plymouth, Tim, Barb, Jess and Becca Franzen, Edward and Paula Geiger, Carol Williams, Susan Curtiss.
Mrs. Newton also thanked district employees Bob Mueller, Pam Ott, Gina Krueger, John Roehre, Heather Gehri, and Jennifer Marten; as well as Barb Hunter, Clare Sedlacek, John and Lisa Balistreri, Deb Birenbaum, and Michael Newton.