BUFFALO, N.Y. – Families from Puerto Rico devastated by Hurricane Maria are continuing to move to Buffalo with little to nothing.
With the uptick in new families, one Buffalo teacher noticed many of the new children were lacking a necessity here in Western New York: a winter coat.
"These families are coming with just a suitcase, with some summer clothes. They've lost everything. Those who didn't lose everything have been without a job for two months,” 7th- and 8th-grade teacher Kim Meissner said.
Meissner teaches at School 76, the Herman Bedillo Bilingual Academy.
School 76 has seen a surge in new students as a direct result of Hurricane Maria displacement.
Meissner's school has received the most, just over 90 new students since October.
"One day I realized that in the past week and a half, we had received over 40 students from Puerto Rico,” she said.
Meissner is formerly of Puerto Rico herself, and she's been greatly affected by all the children she's seen uprooted from the lives they know.
"I know that they didn't want to leave the island. They left because they had to,” she said.
So Meissner decided to reach out online and ask anyone who was able to donate gently used kids’ coats.
"I put it out at there at around 11 on Thursday night, and already Friday at 11, the clerk called me and asked me what was going on because we were receiving so many donations,” she said.
Her efforts and the community response have now filled the school auditorium twice with coats, boots, snow pants, mittens, hats, and more.
She’s even received toys and books to send home with families who are trying to rebuild their lives.
What's sorted and organized gets moved from the auditorium to neat racks and boxes in her actual classroom, where she lets parents choose what they need for their children.
Because of Meissner, the school has already had three giveaway events with more planned, but she won’t take credit for the collection this Thanksgiving.
"I am thankful for the way the community has responded. I'm thankful that all of those that have come here have found a place to stay. There are many in the community who have opened their homes to them for Thanksgiving, too. That's what I'm thankful for,” Meissner said. “I'm thankful for this school I work in, which is a beautiful. We're a beautiful family, and we're part of a beautiful community.”