A white zucchetto, a cap worn by Pope Francis, sat on a table as more help came to the Orangefield school district. God has recognized the needs of flood recovery, but Superintendent Dr. Stephen Patterson could also use some help from FEMA and the state of Texas.
Father Jim Sichko, who grew up in Orange, drove with a U-Haul trucks full of gifts for the district. He arrived at Orangefield Junior High with the boxes. Then he sat at a table and wrote out checks paying utility bills for individuals and families.
His sister, Thereze Sichko, is the secretary for the West Orange-Stark athletic department, and she helped the priest keep tabs with the $5,500 worth of checks. Her boss, Coach Cornel Thompson, let her go across town to help.
Pope Francis last year named Father Jim as a Papal Missionary of Mercy. The pope’s cap was on the table where the checks were written.
Dr. Patterson said the priest asked the district and teachers to make a “wish list” on Amazon. Father Jim then asked people to buy the items as gifts to help in the flood recovery. The boxes of gifts were worth $30,000 and more will be sent.
The Orangefield district had two of its three schools flooded by Harvey. Students didn’t start the school year until last week. The elementary school isn’t being used and students have moved into every available space.
Dr. Patterson said 1,000 of the district’s 1,800 students are not in their regular classrooms. That’s a reason he wants more help from the state and FEMA.
He said regulations require a request for quotes to get an engineer and then wait 14 days. Once the engineer is hired, a survey of the buildings and what needs to be fixed will be done. Next comes a request for proposals to repair the buildings and another 30-day wait.
“It doesn’t make sense,” Dr. Patterson said. “We have 1,000 kids displaced.” He said schools normally can get emergency requests in 10 days, but now they have to follow FEMA rules.
He’s also paying attention to the Texas House Appropriations Committee, which recently met for hours to talk about Harvey recovery. He thanked State Representative Dade Phelan for supporting the district. Last week, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath toured the district to see the damage and how teachers and students are adapting.
Dr. Patterson has been invited later this month to testify before the House Public Education Committee on the disaster. He, along with other school officials affected by Harvey, are wanting changes in the standardized STAAR testing this year.
But all those concerns were alleviated with “Santa” Jim pulling a U-Haul Tuesday. One box on the front showed a drawing of a miniature kitchen. Dr. Patterson said the kindergarten classes lost seven miniature kitchens in the flood. The toy kitchens were on the wish list.
The amount of gifts will take hours to take out of the boxes and more time to put together. No one will complain, though. The kids need them.