NAUGATUCK – co-owner Teresa Patternoster tried to stay strong as she helped clean after a flash flood ripped though her downtown Naugatuck business and washed away several years of memories on August 1.
She knew floors and walls could be replaced, but she nearly broke down when she picked up a book containing photographs of former students and thank you notes from parents.
“When I was holding that book in my hands and needed to throw it out, that’s when it really hit me,” said Patternoster, an Oxford resident. “Over the years, you collect so many memorable items. You build a classroom with everything you need. And then it gets washed away in one afternoon.”
Damage from the , which dumped six inches of water on Naugatuck in a couple of hours, equated to a total loss for the preschool located at 9 Division St., in the basement of the . Books, computers, appliances, toys, carpets, school supplies and the like were ruined when water poured in through a basement window and puddled to more than a foot high within a couple hours. Repairs to the structure will be paid for by the church's insurance carrier, but it's up to Tender Years to replace its personal property.
While the sentimental items may never be replaced, other items can. And Naugatuck resident Stephanie (Gunnoud) Savoy, whose niece attends the pre-school, is on a mission to make sure Tender Years has everything it needs for opening day of the upcoming school year, which begins Sept. 4.
Savoy is organizing a toy and supply drive for Tender Years on the Town Green this Sunday. She's seeking new or gently used toys, books, art supplies – anything a 3-to-5-year-old might want. People are asked to donate to the drive from 1-3 p.m. Anyone who cannot attend, but still wants to donate or volunteer, should call Savoy at 203.509.6840.
“These people do so much to help our children and our communities, so it’s only fair that we help them in their time of need,” Savoy said of Tender Years staff, including Patternoster, who has owned Tender Years with Karen Hummel, another Oxford resident, for the past five years. Tender Years, a for-profit organization, has been in business in Naugatuck for several years under various owners.
Thousands of people have been invited to the event via Facebook and several hundred have already promised donations.
The event will not only serve as a drop off time for donations; it will also be a fun, family outing to kick off the new school year, Savoy said.
Cotton candy and popcorn will be served on the Green, while children can play in a bounce house donated by B’Bounce 'N of Naugatuck Children of all ages can enjoy music played by a disc jockey. Admission is free but people are asked to bring at least one item for the preschool.
News of the event has come as a welcomed surprise by Patternoster and Hummel, who say the community support has been overwhelming.
“Right from the very beginning, we’ve had people helping,” Hummel said. “Parents, former parents, community leaders, friends we know Oxford, people we don't even know. ...They've all shown up. It's amazing. It’s hard to put into words how thankful we are for everyone’s support.”
With the help, Hummel has no doubts the pre-school will meet its goal of opening on time Sept. 4. The school has 75 children registered to begin on day one.
“We’re going to open that day," she said. "no matter how much we have to work to get it done."