CORONAVIRUS

With students displaced, Cedar Rapids' Hoover Elementary staff steps up after derecho

Avery Miller, 10, tickles his brother, Abram Miller, 5, as their mother, Lupita Candela (not pictured), works on her com
Avery Miller, 10, tickles his brother, Abram Miller, 5, as their mother, Lupita Candela (not pictured), works on her computers in their room at the Best Western Longbranch Hotel in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. Administrators and teachers from Hoover Elementary have been checking in on families who are displaced or in need because of the derecho. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Lupita Candela was given three days notice to move her two elementary school children and herself out of their home at Arrowridge Apartment because of mold after the derecho storm.

Last week, while frantically trying to pack up everything she owns, Candela heard greetings of “hi” and “we miss you” from Hoover Elementary School teachers drifting through the open window.

“I never thought I would hear my 10-year-old say he missed school and his teachers, but to see them really put a big smile on his face, which makes me very happy,” Candela said.

Candela and her fifth-grade and kindergarten sons now are staying at the Best Western Longbranch Hotel. Hoover staff have been in contact frequently, asking her what her family needs and bringing them food and water “and joy,” she said.

“It’s such a blessing they have been to us,” Candela said through tears. “To know they really care about us and our well-being means so much.

“We’re not just another number. We’re actual people they care about.”

Staff at Hoover Elementary, a community-based school at 4141 Johnson Ave. NW in Cedar Rapids, took to the streets following the Aug. 10 derecho storm that swept hurricane-force winds across portions of Iowa.

Teachers went door to door on the northwest side of the city, taking an assessment of each household — whether they were Hoover families — and bringing them what they needed.

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As staff could not enter the school, which was damaged in the storm, they set up the pantry at the headquarters of IBEW Local 405, the local electricians union, on Wiley Boulevard SW.

Clothes, hygiene items, food and water were donated to the makeshift pantry by businesses and community members.

Hoover Principal Clinton Stone said staff made contact with more than 360 students who are enrolled in Hoover and they already have worked with 200 households in need after the storm.

“I’m continually amazed and impressed with the compassion of Hoover staff and the relationships they’ve built with students and families,” Stone said.

The school, which Stone said serves many immigrant and refugee families, is well-suited to care for people affected in the storm as a community-based school.

Hoover kindergarten teacher Kelly McMahon said after the storm, she drove around to her student’s neighborhoods and “immediately began to cry.”

“The devastation is beyond heartbreaking,” McMahon said. “Lives have been turned upside down. For some, everything they had is now lost.

“Immediately my thoughts were what can I do to help my students and families.”

While the pantry wrapped up at the end of the week at IBEW, staff now are focused on the long-term needs of the community such as locating housing for students who have been displaced and securing internet connection, with the start of the school year around the corner.

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“We have to transition from immediate survival to long-term living beyond the storm,” McMahon said.

“The idea of the community school model is our school is the hub of the neighborhood. It’s a place where family, students and the community can go for resources. To me, it’s what we do.”

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

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