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Hamptons Life

Jan 20, 2010 3:37 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Riverhead student spearheads donation drive to assist those in Haiti

Jan 20, 2010 3:37 PM

Corrine Matlak isn’t about to go about her normal teenage life when there are Haitian children suffering.

Like many people, the 16-year-old Riverhead High School junior was watching the news coverage last week of the January 12 earthquake that devastated Haiti and killed tens of thousands of people. She saw images of children sitting on cardboard boxes with missing eyes, arms and legs—and there she was sitting in her Jamesport home, safe and sound.

“That bothers me a lot,” she said, referring to the images that are still streaming in from the tiny island nation that was flattened by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake. “I don’t know why, but it does.”

Corrine said she needed to do something and, last week, she put together a Facebook page, Riverhead Helps Haiti Kids, to call for a schoolwide donation drive to help the ongoing relief effort in Haiti. She also asked for help from her English teacher, Michelle Strobel, and approached David Zimbler, the high school principal, about organizing a donation drive.

One idea led to another, and Corrine eventually discovered Convoy of Hope, a faith-based humanitarian agency that is accepting non-monetary donations for the relief effort in Haiti. Though details are still being worked out, Corrine said Riverhead High School students will start collecting items for hygiene kits the first week of February.

Convoy of Hope, a not-for-profit organization based in Springfield, Missouri, is teaming up with schools across the country to assemble the hygiene kits, which are gallon plastic bags that contain a bottle of shampoo, a tube of toothpaste, a toothbrush, a comb, a bar of antibacterial soap and a washcloth. Students will ship those kits to Convoy of Hope, which will transport them to Haiti, according to Jeff Nene, the organization’s senior director of communications and technology.

It is just as important to get hygienic products to the people in Haiti as it is to get food and water to them, Mr. Nene said. “I saw a news report on CNN that said that the most sought-after product right now in Haiti is toothpaste,” he said. “People were taking toothpaste and putting it in their nostrils, so then they would smell the toothpaste instead of smelling the death on the street.

“It’s pretty nasty down there right now,” he added.

Riverhead High School wanted to focus on a donation drive that wasn’t based on money because a lot of people are already doling out cash to relief organizations, according to Mr. Zimbler. Collecting items for hygiene kits lets students get personally involved in the relief effort and will give them reassurance that their donations won’t go to waste, Corrine said. She added that when people give money, they don’t necessarily know where it goes.

“They know it’s going to be used,” Corrine said, referring to the donations that will be collected for the hygiene kits. “What else would you do with a bottle of shampoo?”

While administrators are still ironing out the final details, students and teachers are “getting the word out,” according to Michael Hugelmeyer, the assistant principal at the high school. Both he and Ms. Strobel commended Corrine for organizing the drive.

“She’s spearheading the entire thing,” Ms. Strobel said. “She’s done an amazing job researching this.”

After collection boxes line the halls and classrooms of Riverhead High School for two weeks, Corrine and a group of about six friends will put the items in the plastic bags. The same students will also make signs to advertise the drive and decorate the collection boxes.

The two-week collection period might seem like a long time to wait before sending aid to a devastated region, but the group figured that the relief effort in Haiti will be a long-term affair, Ms. Strobel said.

“The entire nation is crippled,” she said. “It will be a long time before we run out of things to give.”

To pay for the shipping costs, the school will reach out to the community and ask staff members to adopt a kit, Mr. Zimbler said.

High school students were “overwhelmingly” affected by the earthquake, Ms. Strobel said. Some clubs had also approached administrators about doing something to help, Mr. Hugelmeyer said.

Considering the impact of the tragedy and the huge desire to help being displayed by students, Ms. Strobel predicts that the school will collect plenty of donations.

“I think it’ll be incredibly successful,” she said.

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How can we get Westhampton Beach High School involved?
By gallerygirl (29), southampton on Jan 20, 10 3:59 PM
Miss Matlak is a great power of example for those her age. Her parents and grandparents should be proud and commended for raising and nurturing such a fine young woman.
By Integrity Party Guy (26), Riverhead on Jan 20, 10 4:33 PM
So proud of you Corrine - PG
By gmdupree (2), Riverhead on Jan 20, 10 5:11 PM
God bless compassionate children. One hopes that Ms. Matlak will retain that spirit throughout her life.
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Jan 20, 10 6:02 PM
Westhampton Beach High School is and has been involved all week. Hurricanes Helping Haiti has raised over $1600 in just 3 days. We began collecting money on Tuesday, January 19th.

All proceeds will be donated to the American Red Cross for the Haiti Relief effort.
By beach23 (3), Hamptons on Jan 22, 10 12:42 PM
(After today, Friday, more than $2500 was raised.)
By beach23 (3), Hamptons on Jan 22, 10 8:21 PM