Belle Harbor’s PS 114 surprised

Belle Harbor’s PS 114 surprised
Photo courtesy Walmart
By Steve Mosco

As one of the first city schools affected by Hurricane Sandy to reopen after the storm, PS 114 in Belle Harbor was quick to assess the damage.

While children were able to return to their classrooms, much of the school’s supplies and equipment was rendered destroyed. Included among the casualties was the music program’s cache of instruments.

But youngsters at the Belle Harbor school were in for a pre-Christmas surprise when retail giant Walmart teamed with NBC’s “Today Show” to replace much of what was lost.

Walmart visited the school, at 400 Beach 135th St., Dec. 18 and delivered new instruments for the band, new sporting equipment for the gym, new computers for the classrooms, new art supplies for the students and more.

“The ‘Today Show’ came to us and asked us if we wanted to get involved in telling the story of a local school,” said Joe Schmidt, manager of a Walmart store in Secaucus, N.J. “We visited the school and saw what happened. We thought it was important to highlight what happened and reach out to help those kids.”

And so early on that Tuesday morning, a Walmart trailer rolled up to the school and elicited screams of delight from scores of schoolchildren. Schmidt said he recruited more than 30 staff members from his store to travel to the Rockaways and assist in the event.

“We encourage a culture of giving back to the communities where you work and live,” said Schmidt. “Once I announced what we planned on doing and what it was for, associates were jumping at the chance to get involved.”

Walmart associates came running out from behind the trailer, each with an instrument in hand, and passed them along to the surprised youngsters.

“Some of the kids started crying,” Schmidt said of the children in Grades 1 through 7. “They were very thankful at the same time. I was really impressed with how children that age conducted themselves.”

But tearful appreciation transformed into star-struck shrieks as Walmart and school officials introduced actor, rapper and comedian Nick Cannon, who donated top-of-the-line headphones to go with the iPad Nanos distributed for free by Walmart.

Schmidt said there was a marked difference in the reaction Cannon received when he sprang into a classroom.

“The young kids didn’t really know him, but when he got into the fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade classes, there was a huge reaction,” he said. “And he was really great with the kids.”

Schmidt, who was also involved with a group of Walmart volunteers who assisted in the recovery following Hurricane Katrina, said working for a company that uplifts people who have suffered great loss is satisfying.

“This was about trying to help the kids return to a sense of normalcy,” he said. “We wanted to give back to the community and in the process bring some holiday cheer for the Christmas season. It’s an awesome feeling.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.