Like many great efforts during COVID-19, the student desk delivery program started by Parlin School Teacher Stacy Schiavo and Firefighter Joe MacLaughlin began with a pressing need, a call between old friends, and quick action to help someone out.
That’s just what happened last October when Schiavo had been noticing that a lot of her students didn’t have a great place to work and attend remote classes. Meanwhile, MacLaughlin was cleaning out his parents’ home in Everett and came across an old desk in the attic. He cleaned it up and painted it and wondered what to do with it.
So, he called Schiavo.
In this case: Two plus two equaled more than four. In fact it equaled a successful venture that has now provided hundreds of desks to kids in the Everett Public Schools (EPS) of all ages and grade levels.
“I had that desk and it was in good shape and I didn’t want to throw it in a dumpster because I knew with remote school there were probably some kids that could use it in Everett,” said MacLaughlin. “I knew Stacy and reached out and asked her if any kids could use a desk.”
Said Schiavo, “I reached out to parents on our Dojo platform and had six parents immediately say they could use a desk. I gave it to the first one and then we were also able to get donations to take care of the rest of them.”
Then the donations came pouring in – desks from all over their network of people in Everett and alumni of EPS that heard and donated. They even got a 400 pound Mahogany desk from a retired judge in Marblehead. That morphed into not just donations of desks, but also new desks from Amazon bolstered by a fundraising effort that had a goal of $3,000 but has already hit $5,000.
“Word spread by mouth at first and people wanted to give us used desks, and then they wanted to give us money because they didn’t have any desks,” said Schiavo. “So, we took the donated money and bought Amazon desks. We got it delivered and we do the assembly…It really snowballed.”
MacLaughlin said they decided to assemble the desks and deliver them ready to go to students because they know everyone is so busy, they might now have the time or know-how to assemble a desk. The last thing they wanted was to deliver a box with a desk inside that never got put together.
Between the donated desks, and the more standard Amazon desks they now deliver to students, the volunteer effort has deployed more than 140 desks to Everett students across the city, and much more is to come. With the help of School Committeeman Marcony Almeida Barros, many school leaders and elected officials across the city – the effort is really “snowballing,” they said.
Last Sunday, MacLaughlin was able to use donated gift cards to rent a U-Haul and deliver 20 desks to students all over the city in one of their larger efforts to date. His living room was so inundated with Amazon desk assembly lines that they had to move down to the cellar for more space.
But that’s just the logistics of it all, and the heart of the matter and the need is where the pencil hits the paper on this story.
“One thing I noticed when I was teaching my students is they have other siblings often that are also remote learning,” she said. “They often didn’t have a place to work and didn’t want to turn on their video or unmute because their siblings were right beside them with the volume up…A lot of times you don’t know what’s going on. A lot of kids won’t come off mute because they’re all in the same space and another sibling is beside them with the computer and my student doesn’t want that heard. With these desks, they can have their own area and that helps the situation. It has been heartwarming to see them take ownership of their new space, and clearly they all need it.”
MacLaughlin said he’s seen some tough situations during his delivery rounds and feels for the kids trying to learn in spaces that just aren’t optimal or are cramped.
“Most of the places I’ve delivered desks there is a clear need,” he said. “I delivered to an apartment and the student had us take it to their room and there were four mattresses on the floor and we wedged the desk between two mattresses and that’s where this student was learning and having school. It’s really tough. A lot of the parents think they have to bring it back. When we tell them their student can keep it forever, they get so emotional. So many people just want others to know their situation and to be able to talk about it with someone.”
Schiavo grew up in Everett, as did MacLaughlin, and both have worked for the City in their respective careers for several decades. In fact, both attended the Parlin School as kids, and both have been teachers at the Parlin as well – with MacLaughlin working as a teacher there a few years before landing on the Everett Fire Department. Both understand and know the Everett of yesteryear and the Everett of today – and it’s remarkably the same, they said, when there is a need to be addressed.
“It’s so much how we grew up in Everett,” said MacLaughlin. “Everett was always a blue-collar city. No one ever was in need and everyone always came together. If someone needed something, the whole neighborhood pitched in. That’s what you’re seeing happen here…Once you see someone’s reaction and feel the gratitude and enthusiasm, you just want to do it again.”
Said Schiavo, “It gives everyone such a great feeling when you’re helping people and helping students. Some have asked my what’s my angle and what I’m looking for with this. There is no angle. It’s about helping people. It’s such a great feeling that you want to keep going and we’ll keep going. We haven’t even started to touch our donations and we have so many other kids that would like to have a desk to work on.”
Any student in Everett Public Schools that needs a desk should reach out to their teacher, who will relay the message to Schiavo and MacLaughlin. From there, the logistics will be worked out with the teacher.
To donate to the effort, log on to https://givebutter.com/IJvhB8
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Retired Everett firefighter Joe MacLaughlin delivers desks to help kids learn from home.