Out of the destruction from Hurricane Andrew 23 years ago came one of the most consistent philanthropic endeavors in South Florida.
Many were left without homes and schools were out of session post-Hurricane Andrew. People began to donate supplies from all over the country.
But the only problem was the distribution of all these supplies.
The solution was the Ocean Bank Center for Educational Materials.
"This was a creative solution and helped the school district," said Linda Lecht, president of The Education Fund.
The center consists of hundreds of different types of materials in a warehouse setting. Miami-Dade County teachers may go on the website or call to request a visit. Once they arrive, they grab a shopping cart and a clipboard to write down everything they get. Each item is worth a certain amount of points. Teachers get up to 100 points to use freely around the warehouse and can volunteer to earn more points. And according to Lecht, the center's goal is to service 2,000 classrooms per year.
"From the traditional — paper, pens, pencils, novels and reference books — to the unusual such as wire, tubes, small pieces of things, fabrics, and now construction and garden materials, all of which are used for various classroom projects in social studies, science, language arts, visual arts, and more, The Education Fund picks it up, transports it to the warehouse, sorts and merchandises it, then collects feedback from teachers for constant improvement," said Cheryl Rees, Ocean Bank senior vice president and director of marketing.
Ocean Bank, which has sponsored the project since its inception, invested $2 million and generated $8 million dollars in supplies.
Lecht lauded Ocean Bank's dedication to this project through the years.
"How many companies are willing to commit for such a long period of time? You dont see that in the corporate community," she said.
More than 1.5 million students have benefitted from the Ocean Bank Center for Educational Materials.
"Ocean Bank is so proud to be able to help fulfill the needs of teachers and students in Miami-Dade County Public Schools. We know that The Education Funds school-supply warehouse makes as much of a difference today as when it first started 23 years ago,” Rees said. “People don’t realize just how small school supply budgets are. The Ocean Bank Center helps our students get the supplies they need for learning activities and it alleviates the impact on teachers. After all, it is about helping our children succeed."
Norma Consuegra, a former teacher and now a volunteer at the center, has been coming to the center for years.
“It is a godsend for the teachers... We put all the donations to good use... This is something that the teachers really, really need,” Consuegra said.
Liviana de Morizi, a first grade teacher at Oak Grove Elementary in North Miami and first timer at the center, said, “I got a lot of stuff for my class. Of course I’ll be back.”
“I like it a lot,” said Melena Borrero, an art teacher at Palm Lakes Elementary in Hialeah who has been visiting the center for 15 years. “I use different things for prizes for kids. I do a sort of treasure box. Its something I can do for the kids.”
In addition, the center organizes specific days for art teachers every year. Ocean Bank hosts an exhibition for art students and their parents to display their art using materials in their lobby.
“I think its a really cool concept. It lets the community see what’s being done with the materials and the generosity of all the contributors,” Borrero said.
Amigos for Kids Back-to-School backpack drive
Amigos for Kids has been a staple of the South Florida philanthropic community for years.
The organization began in 1991 when a group of volunteers were asked by the Children's Home Society to start a new volunteering group. It is now one of the largest nonprofit organizations in South Florida.
Rosa Maria Plasencia started as a volunteer in 2001 and now the leads the organization as CEO and president.
“Our mission is child abuse prevention,” Plasencia said. “We help a lot of children who have been affected by abuse and neglect. But not all children we help have been touched by abuse.”
Annually, Amigos for Kids organizes many drives for needy children in the community including a toy drive around Christmas time, which was one of their first initiatives to help make the holidays better for the needy.
In addition, the organization started a Back-to-School drive in which they distribute backpacks filled with school supplies.
“Many children are in our after-school program. We work with DCF (Department of Children and Families) to help us identify the needy children. We do work with other organizations to help give the supplies,” Plasencia said.
The identified children receive the supply-filled backpack a week or two before school starts.
“We want to make sure they have what they need, for all of these kids to have the joy of the first day of school and to be ready to learn,” Plasencia said. “We are giving them that opportunity to understand that the most important thing is to be in school and learn. Knowledge will carry them all of their lives.”
Plasencia’s dream is for child abuse to end.
“My hope is that as we continue to grow we will be able to reach people all throughout the country that understand the importance of nurturing children and loving children,” she said. “Our message is that there’s no excuse for child abuse. We will help to take care of every single child in this country.”
Ocean Bank Center for Educational Materials
6890 NW 76th St.
Medley, FL 33166
Amigos for Kids
2153 Coral Way
Miami, FL 33129