The Hillsborough Education Foundation’s drive to support Lee Elementary Magnet has raised more than $82,000 in donations and collected 46-plus pallets worth of supplies.
“It certainly shows that our community really is a family and is really there to lift each other up,” said Foundation President Kim Jowell. “I was touched to see how close the community could be.”
The historic campus burned down Sept. 12, the day after Hurricane Irma passed through the area. The fire likely sparked after electricity was restored to the neighborhood, investigators have stated repeatedly.
Since that Tuesday evening, the community has embraced Lee students and staff, helping prepare for a move to Lee’s temporary home at nearby Lockhart Elementary Magnet and Young Elementary Magnet.
Hundreds of volunteers showed up on Sept. 15 to get the campus ready for students. The Foundation also launched its campaign, seeking both supplies and cash for the school.
With a $50,000 gift, Rooms To Go was the most generous donor, but gifts came in all shapes and sizes. PTA groups were instrumental in securing supplies. The Academy Prep Center of Tampa private school gifted 31 laptops. A truckload of supplies arrived courtesy of Maryland teachers; financial donations came via a Pinellas County child's lemonade stand and a Mississippi coin drive.
For Lee Principal Beverly Smith, the support has been overwhelming.
“I literally have to find inspirational books to read and keep me grounded,” said Smith, also a Lee parent. “I have to make sure I have balance. I have to get in touch with my center.”
The Foundation’s numbers don’t include donations that came directly to the school – and there were many, starting within hours of the district’s announcement of where Lee would reopen.
Smith estimates $4,000 in financial support from other schools, three pallets of books and two stages worth of supplies. Lee’s supply needs were largely met on the day they first returned to campus, and the Education Foundation will redirect surplus supply donations to other schools in need.
Financial support has been key, because it enables Lee to continue to stock up on other needs.
“Kim makes it very easy,” Smith said of the Foundation leader. “I send her a text or email – and then stuff just comes. I have to give her major props.”
Smith compared the financial support to when you move into a new house.
“I don’t even know what I’ve forgotten until I need to get it,” she said. “You have canned food but forgot to get the $2 can opener. I’m finding a lot of that right now.”
She is being cautious about how the money is spent, however. In a few weeks, some Lee teachers are expected to relocate from shared classrooms and into portables being brought to the campus. Then there’s the matter of where the students and staff wind up long term.
“As a responsible household person,” she said, “you wouldn’t exhaust your budget.”
Financial donations can still be made at the Hillsborough Education Foundation's website, www.educationfoundation.com.