Staff Writer

As she watched images of the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy unfold on television, Abigial Smith knew she had to do something.

“The amount of debris was just stunning,” said Smith, a 17-year-old senior at Freeport High School, recalling the images broadcast more than a month ago.

An active member of the school’s service learning club, she and other members immediately mulled how to help, and in a show of solidarity with the identically named village on Long Island, students in Freeport, Maine, are raising money and collecting school supplies until Dec. 21 to help the New York school district rebuild.

The drive comes as the 556 students at the Leo F. Giblyn Elementary school in Freeport, N.Y., are scheduled to return Monday for the first time since classrooms were flooded with as much as 6 inches of water following the Oct. 29 storm.

So far, donors have pitched in $500 in direct assistance and several boxes full of binders, notepaper, markers and other classroom staples. Drop-off boxes are located in Freeport schools and at the Community Services Center on Depot Street.

The gesture has taken some in the New York community by surprise.

“I’m very much touched when we first got the call,” said Kishore Kuncham, superintendent of the Freeport, N.Y., school district.

Kuncham pegged the damage at $2 million districtwide, including the Giblyn school and a maintenance garage that also took on water.

Dede Bunnell, Freeport’s servicing learning coordinator, remembered a familiar name mentioned during forecasts, and recalled that the districts have crossed paths before: One year, diplomas for students in Freeport, N.Y., were accidentally shipped to Maine. Bennell said colleges recruiting seniors will often send mail to the wrong town.

Now that fundraising is under way, Bennell said she has divided the service club into teams to tackle logistics. One group is researching how to best deliver the materials in January, while others canvass businesses for donations. Bunnell said cash gifts will go toward gift cards for displaced families.

“Our goal is to keep things as simple as possible,” she said.

Kuncham said the district had prepared for the storm, but damage to the 50-year-old building’s first floor was still extensive.

Every volume in the library that was within two feet of the floor was ruined. Foul water crept under asbestos floor tiles in 14 classrooms, requiring environmentally sensitive and expensive cleanup. Hardwood gym flooring will also have to be replaced, and crews had to tear out some wallboard or use special equipment to dry Sheetrock in hard-to-reach areas.

Administrators made hasty arrangements to house Giblyn’s 556 students temporarily in four other schools. Gymnasiums, auditoriums and spare rooms were converted to classrooms.

“The storm was greater than we really anticipated,” said Giblyn Principal Amanda Muldowney, who marshalled the moving effort. “We’ve been working tirelessly to get this building back in shape.”

While insurance could cover up to $1 million in damages, it will be hard to estimate the loss of teaching materials, including curriculum notes, worksheets and other information teachers accumulate over years of instruction, Kuncham said.

“This whole thing is going to be remembered forever,” he said.

Staff Writer Matt Byrne can be contacted at: 791-6303 or at:

[email protected]