An effort that delivered truckloads of hand sanitizer to Pitt County Schools before most students returned for face-to-face learning this month started a little bit smaller.
Amira and Hany Hijazi are siblings and students in Pitt County. Amira, 14, attends the Innovation Early College on East Carolina University’s campus, while Hany goes to Hope Middle School. The two are also avid volunteers.
As the schools geared up to resume nearly regular classes April 13, worries cropped up as to whether enough sanitation supplies would be available for classrooms amid the ongoing pandemic. The Hijazi siblings asked their mother what they could do to help.
“They told me, ‘Mom, we need to help our students, our parents and our staff,’” said Ilham Thurston, who is assistant disaster director for Lutheran Services Carolinas. “They wanted to bring in a couple of boxes of hand sanitizer.”
After some discussion and planning, the teens and their mom helped form a partnership between Lutheran Services, FEMA and Walmart that sent 41 tractor-trailers of hand sanitizer to several communities in the region in addition to Pitt County.
“Their little dream became a big one,” Thurston said.
Ten of those trucks deposited over 40 pallets of sanitizer at Grifton Mission Ministries Wednesday. The site, founded and operated by Billy and Elaine Tarlton, has been providing meals to almost 3,000 families a week since the pandemic began.
When Pitt County Commissioner for District 2 Mary Perkins-Williams caught wind of what was going on, she jumped at the opportunity to provide “total community involvement.”
“Not only schools,” she said. “We get churches, businesses and parents because (children) are not learning outside of school.”
Thurston said that the commissioner’s involvement came around the same time as donations and other support came flooding in. Trucks from E.R. Lewis in Greenville were in charge of moving the sanitizer to a central location for distribution, a Pitt County Schools warehouse.
Perkins-Williams said that distribution was largely handled in part by a network of drivers from ministries who will distribute the sanitizer from the warehouse to schools around the county. She also believes the supply will make parents feel safer about getting their kids back in the classroom.
“Virtual is not working north of the river so in-school is what they need,” said Perkins-Williams, whose district includes northern Pitt County.
Some parents worry about sending their children to school because they fear the schools are well-supplied, she said. “If … I can feel assured that supplies are available in the school, I can consider sending my child to school.”
Pitt County Schools announced March 15 that they would move to Plan A for middle and high schools on April 13. With next week being spring break, that gives Perkins-Williams’ network of volunteers a little over a week to get sanitizer to all the schools who need it.
Perkins-Williams also said that she wishes more community members would have been involved in the project, particularly those in leadership roles. Additionally, she implores that if a child shows symptoms of any virus that parents do not allow them to go to school.
“Sniffling, coughing sneezing or anything!” she said. “School is not a daycare. We cannot risk any sort of illness for our community or our children.”
In addition to schools, local police departments and fire stations were also given boxes of hand sanitizer to help their work.
“We provide them to agencies who can help us prevent a fourth wave,” said Paul Dunn, North and South Carolina Disaster Director for LSC. “It’s those teens’ dream that made it happen. FEMA, LSC, Walmart and the commissioner helped put this into action but those teens are the ones who got this started.”
Trucks also delivered sanitizer to Asheville as well as Dillon, S.C., and Long, S.C.
This story originally appeared in The Daily Reflector and was written by Pat Gruner. Click here to visit its website.