Teachers, administrators and students at Reynoldsburg City Schools found ways to help hurricane victims soon after Hurricane Harvey struck the Houston area.

When Kelvin Sampson, head basketball coach at the University of Houston, sent out a Tweet asking schools to send T-shirts and shoes for victims, schools and universities all over the United States responded.

District Communications Director Valerie Wunder said Reynoldsburg donated eight to 10 boxes of T-shirts.

Superintendent Melvin Brown sent out a photo Aug. 30 of two Reynoldsburg students packing T-shirts and shoes into a box.

"Just the beginning and heading to you soon," Brown wrote in a Tweet to Sampson. "Our community sends you prayers."

Herbert Mills Elementary STEM coordinator Alexa Barbati said the school adopted Matzke Elementary School in Houston to send them a "kindness box" filled with school supplies such as markers, pencils, glue, notebooks and folders.

The collection began Sept. 11 and was expected to conclude Sept. 22.

Barbati said fourth-grade teacher and STEM coordinator Denise Taylor discovered a Projects Lead The Way: Donors Choose Giving page, which gave information about adopting the Houston school.

Helping Matzke Elementary became the basis for other lessons at the Reynoldsburg school.

"Collectively, we developed and implemented a schoolwide initiative to assist those impacted by the devastation of the hurricane," Barbati said. "Our essential question was, what is a hurricane and how can we help a hurricane-devastated area?"

She said each grade level was tasked with presenting standards-aligned research at the school's morning assembly, called Morning Roar.

"Second-graders researched natural disasters and presented about hurricanes, specifically Hurricane Harvey and the aftermath they have on communities," Barbati said. "Third- and fourth-grade students presented state demographics and compared Houston with Reynoldsburg."

She said first-graders used writing standards to write and read aloud friendly, empathetic letters to the students at the adopted school.

"The presentations demonstrated the real-world impact Hurricane Harvey had on students their own age," she said.

Barbati said Herbert Mills' humanitarian and global focus means teachers "are constantly striving to provide students with real-world problems to solve."

"This is a valuable experience for them because it encourages holistic thinking and finding meaningful ways to contribute and solve the very problems students face in the world around them," Barbati said.

"Service-oriented projects teach key skills, that we, as educators, want students to use when completing STEM projects that will transfer into adult life, such as empathy, empowerment and generosity."

Other districts

Other central Ohio school districts have also stepped up to assist schools in areas hit by hurricanes.

In Canal Winchester, students and staff members collected more than $3,300 to donate to American Red Cross relief efforts by donating money for the privilege of wearing hats, jeans or pajamas to school.

The Gahanna Lincoln High School "S" Club was matched through a Facebook post and a Google information form with a class at Dickinson High School southwest of Houston. Their teachers -- Marcie Aiello in Gahanna and Jessica Wheat in Texas -- have been corresponding so the girls in the Gahanna club can donate items that are most needed.

Funds donated by Westerville North High school students will assist Kristi Wolfe, a Westerville North alumna, for her high school in Cedar Creek, Texas, and North friend Dana Lofgren and her school, Kingwood High School in Kingwood, Texas.

Experts advise caution

While central Ohioans open their hearts and wallets to the victims of two hurricanes to make landfall in the United States, local experts advise donors be cautious about where they put their contributions.

Hurricane Harvey made landfall Aug. 25, dumping more than 40 inches of rain over four days in eastern Texas.

The resulting floods inundated hundreds of homes and displaced more than 30,000 people.

That was closely followed by Hurricane Irma, which hit Florida Sept. 9 and left storm damage and massive power outages behind.

"We always see the good in humanity come out in times of need," said Kip Morse, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving central Ohio.

"The devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey motivates many of us to help as soon as possible.

"We want donors to be aware of some important tips and key points of caution so that their generosity will get to those in need quickly and effectively," Morse said.

Make donations count

The Better Business Bureau and BBB Wise Giving Alliance advise people to help as much as they can to disaster relief efforts, but to do so with caution and make sure donations get to the people who need it most, said Judy Dollison, BBB vice president of marketing and communications serving central Ohio.

She said BBB officials are already seeing crowdfunding appeals of a dubious nature, and in the days ahead expect to see "storm-chasers" looking to make a quick buck off of cleanup efforts (bbb.org/storm).

Consumers can report suspected scams to the BBB Scam Tracker online at bbb.org/scamtracker.

The BBB Wise Giving Alliance suggests donors verify the trustworthiness of soliciting relief organizations by visiting Give.org to access free reports that specify if the charity meets the 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability.

Donors should also see if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in impacted areas.

Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas, it may be difficult to bring in new aid workers to provide assistance quickly.

Donors should also be cautious about gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations.

In-kind drives for food and clothing, while well intentioned, may not necessarily be the quickest way to help those in need - unless the leading organization has the staff and infrastructure to distribute such aid properly, according to the BBB.

The organization also advises people to keep in mind that some crowdfunding sites do very little vetting of individuals who post for assistance after a disaster, and it is often difficult for donors to verify the trustworthiness of crowdfunding requests for support.

For those who decide to contribute via crowdfunding, it is probably best to give to people who are personal acquaintances that have posted requests for assistance.

ThisWeek reporter Marla K. Kuhlman contributed to this story.



THE ISSUE: Following hurricanes Harvey and Irma, various fundraisers and campaigns are being held to help those affected by the disasters. The Better Business Bureau of Central Ohio is advising the public to be aware of "storm-chasers" looking to make a quick buck off of cleanup efforts.

WHY IT MATTERS: Reynoldsburg school district students and staff members looking for ways to help victims of Hurricane Harvey donated T-shirts to the University of Houston and supplies to Matzke Elementary School in Houston. Helping with hurricane relief efforts became the basis of other lessons at Herbert Mills Elementary.