Tonight, the Board of Education will vote to build a $117,000 playground at Long Lots Elementary School.
And it won’t cost Westport taxpayers a dime.
It’s a gift from the New Jersey State Firefighters’ Mutual Benevolent Association.
And if you wonder — as I did — why the NJSFMBA is donating a playground to an affluent town 2 states away: read on.
The donation is part of the “Sandy Ground: Where Angels Play” project. Based in Rahway, NJ, it honors all 26 victims of the Sandy Hook shootings, while also helping communities in the tri-state area hit hard by Hurricane Sandy.
A week after the storm devastated much of the New Jersey coast, Billy Lamb called the NJFMBA state office. The Mississippi businessman remembered New Jersey firefighters, and the playgrounds they built there in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Lamb said the communities of Waveland and Bay St. Louis, Mississippi were collecting Christmas gifts for New Jersey children affected by the storm. They were “paying it forward” to those who had showed such kindness in their own hour of need.
(Waveland and Pass Christian are well known to Westport. Gail Cunningham Coen is senior vice president of Keep America Beautiful, and has worked hard to rebuild both communities. She’s even hosted their mayors here.)
In December a trailer containing over 1,000 wrapped Christmas toys arrived from Mississippi, for Monmouth County kids.
The gesture energized exhausted NJFMBA members. Unfortunately, at the same time the nation was reeling from the shooting of 20 children and 6 adults, not far away in Newtown, Connecticut.
The NJFMBA wanted to do something to help — but how could New Jersey firefighters be productive and meaningful? Suddenly — thanks to the gifts from Mississippi — the playgrounds they’d built 7 years earlier provided the answer.
“The Sandy Ground Project: Where Angels Play” was born.
So 26 playgrounds — in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut — will be built, in an attempt to connect 2 tragedies that eerily share the same name.
The Long Lots playground honors Dylan Hockley, the little boy who’d moved to Sandy Hook from England 2 years ago, and who died wrapped in the arms of his teacher, Anne Marie Murphy.
The total cost could reach $2 million. But when NJFMBA members debated whether it could be done, they kept coming up with the same answer. Not only could it be done; it had be done.
Pending approval of the gift (!), construction will begin next month.
But you can thank the New Jersey State Firefighters’ Mutual Benevolent Association any time you want.
(“The Sandy Ground Project: Where Angels Play” can be reached at 1447 Campbell St., Rahway, NJ 07065; www.thesandygroundproject.org; 732-499-9250.)
(Click on the video below, or click here for a direct link to YouTube.)