Community offers holiday help to students affected by recent tornado

Church, schools deliver gifts to families displaced, disadvantaged by natural disaster

  • The Rev. M. Dion Thompson (left) of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Covenant and parishioner Darlene Lee look at toys, clothing and household goods that were donated by church members on behalf of families at Yorkwood Elementary school who were affected by the recent tornado.
The Rev. M. Dion Thompson (left) of the Episcopal Church of the… (Barbara Haddock Taylor,…)
December 22, 2010|By Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun

On the walls of Yorkwood Elementary School are letters to Santa Claus, with students proclaiming their year's worth of good behavior and asking for their favorite Barbies and video games in return. But the neighboring Northeast Baltimore community knew it would take a lot more than a letter to the North Pole to grant the Christmas wishes of many of the students this year.

More than a dozen Yorkwood students and their families were displaced by a rare tornado that ravaged neighborhoods around Northeast Baltimore and Parkville last month. But this week, Yorkwood received an outpouring of support after a local church organized efforts to collect gifts for students whose families are still rebuilding.

Colorful rows of items ranging from laundry detergent to board games filled a classroom in the school Wednesday as the Rev. M. Dion Thompson, of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Covenant, unpacked the second carful of gifts for the school.

In the past few weeks, Thompson has gathered donations from all around the city to help Yorkwood's leaders support students affected by the storm.

"This is one of those 'God cast a wide net' kind of things," Thompson said, describing how what originally started as a donation drive by just the members of his parish inspired other school communities such as Archbishop Curley High School and Dr. Bernard Harris Elementary School to take part.

Thompson said he thought it was important that those affected by the tornado remain in people's thoughts, even if their stories didn't remain in the headlines.

"It was just a sense that it happens, it's on the front page, and after that it drops off the radar screen," Thompson said. "But the need continues, whether it's in the news or not."

Thompson worked with Yorkwood's principal, Deborah Sharpe, to compile a list of clothing, toys, household goods, books and coats for the children affected by the tornado — which yielded enough donations to supply at least one child in the entire school with a gift to take home for winter break Thursday.

The twister Nov. 17 was rated an EF-1 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, the second-lowest ranking, but was violent enough to produce 100-mph winds that tore roofs off several homes in the neighborhood.

The mood in the school this week is a stark contrast to the days after the storm, Sharpe said. She described how she and her staff were in "shock" and "disbelief" as they visited students and their families who were being housed at a nearby ice skating rink and other shelters.

"It was really just sad to see those families and the uncertainty of what was going to be next for them," Sharpe said. "It was rough, but we moved quickly."

About six students left Yorkwood after the tornado because their families had to move. Sharpe said the school took action to ensure that it served those who remained by providing transportation to and from the school.

Sharpe said that community partners like Thompson's church have supported the school in its mission to bring stability back to the students. Thompson said helping the neighboring school came naturally. "For people of faith, this is our faith," he said. "This is the best sermon to be preached, the sermon of action."

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