Michelle Clements was bound from hosting an official Girl Scouts school supply drive, but she refused to let that stop her from helping children with getting school supplies as they plan to return to class soon.
As coordinator for the Suffolk County Girl Scouts Service Unit 48, she typically hosts four school-supply drives throughout August.
However, the Girl Scouts of Suffolk County established new guidelines regarding outdoor meetings to safely navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the guidelines, troop leaders must submit official requests to hold meetings, and they are restricted to one hour, which excludes supply drives — an all-day operation.
“It is ironic that when the need is the greatest, we are squashed by these rules,” Clements, 53, of Mastic, said. “But we can’t just sit back and not get the school supplies.”
On Aug. 29 and 30, she assembled her own base of operations outside Island Dollar at 579 Montauk Hwy. in Shirley, asking shoppers and passersby to donate school supplies — or cash to buy more — for the children in their community. Clements’ command consisted of troop leaders and their daughters. Her boots on the ground were all associated with the Girl Scouts, but they could not promote the drive as a Girl Scouts event.
The kids of the Tri-Hamlet area need these supplies now more than ever, as the Town of Brookhaven’s economy has been far from immune to COVID-19. The town’s unemployment rate for the month of July was 13.2%, more than three times higher than July 2019’s 4.1%, according to the Suffolk County Department of Labor, Licensing, and Consumer Affairs.
“There’s always been a tremendous need here anyway, and now it’s quadrupled,” Clements said.
To get the job done, she enlisted the help of Suffolk County Legis. Rudy Sunderman, who she described as “one of our biggest supporters” and who has routinely partnered with her for community drives. His office helped promote the event on social media, and he reported to the Island Dollar to engage with community members.
“This community has always been great at coming together, for all kinds of different needs, whether it be food, clothes, or school supplies,” Sunderman said. “We’ve always understood the needs of this community,” and this year, he said, was no different.
“We were able to continue our school-supply drive by reaching out to the Girl Scouts community” and help meet the needs of local students, Sunderman said.
Bina Sethi, who owns Island Dollar along with her husband Bill, also has a longstanding relationship with Clements. She said she was happy to extend their store as a drop zone. “They work with us a lot,” Sethil said. “Michelle reaches out, and we want to help the community. They’re great people.”
Dozens of people donated this weekend, including Phil Alonso, who strode out of the store with a stack of composition books. “A lot of kids have a need, and I want to help,” Alonso, 51, of Yaphank, said.
At the end of the two days, Clements said they collected 40 backpacks, nearly 100 composition books, 80 boxes of crayons and 50 boxes of pencils. They will be donated to the William Floyd Learning Center in Shirley, the Colonial Youth Family Services in Moriches and the Kings Kids Christian Outreach in Mastic Beach. She said her troops raised $300 in cash at the store, and she received another $320 through her Venmo account, which will be used to purchase more supplies.
Clements was thankful the operation was a success, but was not surprised. “Our town has always had a lot of financial insecurities,” she said. “But the level of helping in this community is unmatched.”