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SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio - As part of an event spearheaded by the daughter of a longtime teacher, more than 60 businesses donated their wares and services to help boost the morale of educators and staff of Fernway Elementary, the Shaker Heights school that was badly damaged in a massive fire last month.
Since the fire on July 11 at the nearly century-old elementary school, there has been an outpouring of support for the teachers and 300 students at Fernway Elementary. The giveback event on Thursday at Horseshoe Lake Park was no different. Table upon table of food, gifts, books, and puzzles were donated by area businesses that spanned more than a dozen cities.
“It started as a small idea, and it snowballed due to the generosity of the community,” said Catherine Calabrese, the organizer of the event. “People were thanking me, which I thought was funny. I [told them], ‘Thank you for your generosity. I’m just asking.’”
Calabrese, like many others, said she felt helpless and sick to her stomach when a fire ripped through the roof and attic of Fernway Elementary. Firefighters from several different agencies responded to the blaze, which took several hours to get under control. After the smoke cleared, it was easy to see the roof had collapsed entirely, and much of the second and first floors suffered extensive water and smoke damage. The school district is working with insurance adjusters to determine if the building can and should be saved.
Many of the school’s teachers had invested untold amounts of money and time into making their classrooms great places to learn. Much of that was lost or, at the very least, badly damaged in the blaze. Calabrese, the daughter of longtime Fernway teacher Andree Hassell, immediately began calling local businesses to see if they would be willing to help support the teachers. The response, Calabrese said, was overwhelming.
“We all have jobs and different things because teachers invested in us. I just can’t say how important teachers are. I know how much time, money and caring goes into the profession,” Calabrese said. “Everyone [said], ‘Yes, what do you need? I can give you this.’ I’m a little flabbergasted by all this. I know they appreciate it.”
One of the businesses that donated food for Thursday’s picnic lunch and raffle was Tommy’s Restaurant in Cleveland Heights. It’s owner, Tom Fellow, can certainly sympathize with what the teachers are experiencing.
“We know how important schools are and teachers are. I can just imagine what it’s like. I’ve been through a couple of fires in my business career. It’s no fun watching those fires burn everything you worked for,” Fellow said. “That’s what [Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights] are like. It’s a call to arms. Whenever someone needs something, we’re all here. Everyone participates. That’s what’s great.”
Hassell, who has been teaching for more than two decades, said her fellow teachers and staff members are extremely grateful for the community’s support. Despite the damage caused by the fire, she said there’s a tremendous amount of optimism as to what the future holds for Fernway and the surrounding neighborhood.
“The community has been totally amazing. I can’t think of a better word,” Hassell said. “People are very kind, and they go out of their way to help us. The staff is like that. The community we live in is like that. We’re very fortunate. Fernway will eventually be Fernway again.”