Students and staff members in arts programs at Pickerington High School Central recently launched an effort to help people in Puerto Rico impacted by a devastating hurricane.

After Hurricane Maria made landfall Sept. 20 in Puerto Rico, government officials there and various media outlets have reported widespread destruction to properties and the island's infrastructure, as well as a shortage of electricity and clean water.

The orchestra, band, choir and theater departments at Central started a "Hearts From the Performing Arts" fundraising campaign Sept. 29 through the crowd-funding website gofundme.com with a goal of raising at least $500 to support Puerto Rico's hurricane victims.

As of Oct. 6, the campaign had reached its $500 goal and Central Theatre Director Aileen Targett said she was hopeful momentum behind the effort would continue to build.

"We are more than open to raising more," Targett said. "Any and all amounts are welcome.

"People can donate anything from a dollar to $100," she said. "Every little bit helps."

Targett said arts department staff members originally set an Oct. 13 deadline for the fundraiser and they're hopeful students and community members donate to the cause.

Funds raised will go to the American Red Cross for the purchase of bottled water, medicine and food for Puerto Ricans in need.

While the campaign was launched out of concern for humanity on the island, Targett said she, Central Vocal Music Director Heather Wilkins and others saw the campaign as a teachable moment.

"As an arts department, we are consistently discussing empathy and helping others," Targett said. "We decided as an arts department that this was an opportunity to teach the students to 'be the change they want to see.' "

Targett said money raised above the $500 goal will also go to Puerto Rico's recovery efforts.

"In times of crisis it is important for people to help where they can," she said. "Sometimes, students can feel paralyzed because they don't know how or where to help.

"Many students have talked to us about not knowing how to make a difference or feeling that their effect would be too small to even try," Targett said.

"As educators, we are trying to show the students that any amount can help (and) that if everyone could give a little -- a little at a time -- we could all make big changes."

The Central fundraiser comes on the heels of support students and staff at Lakeview and Ridgeview junior high schools lent to Hurricane Harvey victims in Houston and Hurricane Irma victims in Florida.

Following massive flooding and destruction from those storms in September, the two schools had a competition to see who could collect the most items to be sent to aid recovery efforts.

Donated items were transported to relief stations in Texas and Florida by a trucking company with which Lakeview Principal Pamela Bertke's husband is connected.

"It was a great community effort," said Ridgeview Principal Eric Koch.

"We targeted things of need that people don't think about, such as baby formula, diapers, paper towels, Clorox wipes, deodorant for people, canned food items."

Koch said the schools didn't have an official tally of the number of items donated, but more than half of a semitrailer was filled, and Ridgeview was deemed the winner of the collection drive.

As such, Bertke will have to don a Tigers sweatshirt when the Central Tigers take on the Pickerington High School North Panthers in football Oct. 13.

"For two junior high buildings, I think our students did an amazing job," he said.

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