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October 20, 2021

By Molly Alpern, Assistant Director for Advancement Communications

“What I see in this group of 10th Graders is what I see every time I teach this class,” says Fieldston Upper Ethics Teacher Shelley Topping-Omodunbi. “This is a group of energetic, engaged students who are interested in the ways in which ethics operates not just in the classroom, but in the world.”

Earlier this year, Topping-Omodunbi’s Community Service Advisory Board In Training (CSAB-IT) class came together to plan the Community Drive. They knew they wanted to help those impacted by Hurricane Ida, which brought heavy rain and winds to the southeastern and northeastern United States, but weren’t sure about what to collect — clothes, food, or school supplies.

After discussing the most pressing and universal needs of people who were impacted by the storm, they realized that the answer was right under their nose — or, more accurately, right over their nose. “Masks are so crucial. We can’t go and help rebuild houses in Louisiana, but we can engage our community here at ECFS and give back to people in need to help keep them safe. Masks are at the top of everyone’s list!” says Ty L. ’24. Ben L. ’24 agrees: “PPE is something that people of all ages need, unlike school supplies,” making it an especially impactful focus for the drive.

But just collecting personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer wouldn’t be enough — the items would need to be distributed to those impacted by Hurricane Ida. The students researched to find an organization that could help them to distribute everything, eventually landing on the Afya Foundation.

Noor A. ’24 explains, “They send COVID-19 relief and PPE to places that need it, with a big focus on Hurricane Ida. We asked them if they could help us distribute what we collect, and they said they’d be happy to.” Finding the right partner took time and diligence, but it was important to the students. Maya T. ’24 says that as part of the process of vetting the Afya Foundation, the students “looked on their website and went in-depth on their mission and how they were going to distribute the items. We wanted to make sure the drive would be successful.”

With the donation items decided on and a partner organization secured, the CSAB-IT students got to work putting up posters advertising the drive and setting up drop-off bins throughout the School. It didn’t take long before the donations started pouring in. Before a recent meeting of the class, students canvassed the donation bins and brought everything back to the classroom. “We went with an easy concept, but know that people may have their reasons for not donating, so we didn’t expect so many boxes of donations. It took five people to collect just one bin,” says Sophie B. ’24. Ty adds, “My arms were burning carrying the donations back to our room. I’m really proud of our community.”

The Community Drive started because of a desire to give the ECFS community an opportunity to show school spirit in the weeks leading up to Homecoming in a way that complemented the ethical ethos of the School. In 2019, Nancy Oti, Director of Special Events, approached Topping-Omodunbi with the idea to include a donation drive in the overall Homecoming festivities. The CSAB-IT class jumped at the chance to help out, planning and running a sock drive that ended up collecting thousands of socks, a highly requested item at shelters and rehabilitation centers. “It was important for us to show that one way you can express your school spirit is to give back to your community,” says Oti. By partnering with the Advancement Office to run the drive during Homecoming, the CSAB-IT class is able to reach students, families, and alumni who want to be a part of the initiative.

The students agree that getting involved with CSAB-IT builds on the ethical education at ECFS. Remy L. ’24 says, “The preparation is really good. Ethics go hand in hand with community service.” For many of these students, this isn’t the first time they’re involved in collecting items or raising funds for a charitable donation, but Justin A. ’24 shares that “this drive felt more urgent.” Collecting PPE during a pandemic has inspired and motivated the students as they see the donations pile up. While Nikash D. ’24 has done fundraising drives in the past, he says that “collecting actual PPE products is very different. It’s a completely different dynamic.” By putting philanthropy, community service, and ethics into action, Topping-Omodunbi is empowering her students to see how they can have an impact on the world and how their ethical education can be used to help others.

As the students sorted donations into categories, ready to be picked up by the Afya Foundation, they commented in disbelief at how many donations they’d already received. Abby F. ’24, who has contributed to donation drives elsewhere but is involved in the ECFS Community Drive for the first time this year, expressed how satisfying it is to see the “tons of PPE supplies we’re going to get to donate.”

When asked for one parting thought, Deven C. ’24 said, “our community is fortunate enough to give back, and it feels important to be a part of something like this.”

The CSAB-IT class hopes to collect 20 boxes of supplies to donate to the Afya Foundation and are well on their way, but need your help reaching their goal. Donation bins can be found on both campuses and the last day to drop off PPE donations is Friday 10/22.