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Sandy Teaches Empathy to Chester Kindergartners

Dickerson School students take part in Operation Shoebox and donate to NJ Strong.

"We decorated the boxes with rainbows because after a storm a rainbow comes out," said a small voice in Mary Diviney's kindergarten class in the Dickerson School.

That small voice was one of two dozen who participated in Operation Shoebox to benefit the non-profit NJ Strong. The driving force behind Operation Shoebox was Chester resident Kristen Turner, who has a set of twins in Diviney's class.

"You know when you have children under five you go through a lot of shoes," Turner said.

The goal was for the students in Diviney's class was to load up their shoebox with toys to donate to children whose lives were forever changed by Superstorm Sandy. And when it came to the organization to receive and distribute the packages, Turner didn't have to look far.

One of Turner's former students at Morris Hills was Rockaway native Lindsay Donald. Donald along with her brother Stephen formed the non-profit NJ Strong in the aftermath of Sandy.

"We formed then but we aren't solely limited to just Sandy," Stephen Donald said. "And the response has been tremendous. Dealing with us people can see right away where their donations are going. It is very hands on."

The NJ Strong organization was created to help band together volunteers; to be a hub of where people can go to find out how to help or where to go if they need help. The goal is to pool resources and make sure they are getting to the right places and families affected. Along with fundraisers, NJ Strong is getting out into the community to do clean up, outreach and rebuilding directly.

Stephen Donald said that their work volunteering at the shore has been both rewarding and challenging.

"The shore is a huge part of our childhood," Stephen Donald said. "And going down there and trying to help people save their houses or sorting through their possessions has been an experience."

Lindsay Donald said that the non-profit grew to a staff of 10 almost immediately.

"People came out of the woodwork. Ironically they are all graduated of Morris Hills High School although we didn't really all know each other well when we attended," Lindsay Donald said. "People just wanted to help."

According to Lindsay Donald, the group has received offers of help from as far away as North Carolina, but it was Operation Shoebox right in Morris County that tugged at her heartstrings.

"It really is a teachable moment on both ends," Lindsay Donald said.

Turner saw the opportunity of cleaning out her shoeboxes and connecting with the kids come to fruition on Nov. 21 when the students in Diviney's class loaded up their packages in bags to be delivered Monday.

For her part Diviney used the shoebox activity to teach the developing minds an important concept.

"We explained to them what empathy was," Diviney said. "They learned about empathy."

For more information on NJ Strong visit their website or check out their Facebook page.

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