Giving goes both ways at Herkimer Elementary

Donations from the United Way of the Valley and Greater Utica Area are keeping kids at Herkimer Elementary School a little warmer this year.

Read more: Frankfort, Herkimer among United Way Spread the Warmth recipients

The school is the grateful recipient of brand-new winter coats, hats and gloves in various sizes. School Social Worker Kathy Orts, who picked up the donations from the United Way earlier this week, said the cold-weather gear will be available for any student in the school who may need it — whether it’s a child who forgot his mittens, or a student whose family may be struggling to afford a new coat.

“We have children who are in need, and we have an amazing faculty who is always alert to those needs,” Orts explained, surrounded by boxes of coats and bins jammed full of brightly colored mittens. “They watch the children come in and they can see when a student might need something.”

Besides the donations from the United Way, Orts said, the school is fortunate to have many other groups and individuals supporting its students.

Orts told the story of a school board member who came in during a particularly bitter winter with a huge donation of mittens. “He must have bought out the whole Dollar Store!” Orts laughed.

And this year, Orts got a call from a local branch of NBT Bank offering to help.

“They said, ‘Our staff has hats, mittens and socks — would you take them?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely!’”

Donations have also come in from the East Herkimer Fire Station Women’s Auxiliary, the Oakridge United Methodist Church and, for the first time this fall, the Compassion Coalition of Utica contacted the school.

“They gave us tons of backpacks, school supplies, classroom supplies — they’ve been incredibly generous,” Orts said. “We just appreciate it so much.”

While the need for coats is acute at this time of year, Orts said the school is always in need of basic items such as socks and underwear.

But, Orts said, no matter what the need, the school and community have always risen to the challenge.

“We’re blessed by our community, and we also have an amazing faculty,” Orts said. “There is so much support, and we tremendously appreciate every little bit of support we receive.”

And at Herkimer Elementary School, giving is a two-way street.

Elementary Principal Renee Vogt said the school does something each month to give back to the community, including creating Thanksgiving baskets for local families, and Christmas cards for local nursing homes. Other projects will benefit local food pantries, the Humane Society, area cancer patients and veterans’ organizations.

“People are always very generous,” Vogt said.

Vogt said the school recently connected a Herkimer Elementary family to someone who had approached the school, wanting to buy Thanksgiving breakfast, lunch and dinner for a family.

Anyone in the community who wants to help — or who needs help — is invited to contact the district.

“We work to meet the needs of our students and their families,” Vogt said. “It’s not just limited to school supplies. We’re going to try to help in any way we can to support our students so they can do their best.”