This is my piece on the kids cleaning up Margaretville and other communities in this week's Catskill Mountain News. The story is part Frank Capra, but entirely true. I am super proud of the kids here.
Hundreds of bottles of Snapple, Pelegrino and Coke. French butter, anchovy paste, cheese and balsamic vinegar and jugs of pickles. All had to be thrown away.
The liquids dumped into the gutter, bottles opened and lined in rows on the curb to spill out, then held upside down to get out the last drops. The yellow jackets loved it, swarming trash bags and sidewalks, flying around arms and sticky legs. And there doing the work? Kids, girls, Margaretville’s teenagers. All there of their own accord. Across the village they were out in force helping clean up.
Ready to go
Margaretville business woman Sue Ilho says, “They showed up at 9:30 every day and said, ‘What can we do?’ They just showed up and helped Sweet Peas, The Flour Patch, me…” There was Kellsey Buerge and Cecilia Galatioto, Cora Bruno and Sami Hunt, Raeanne Bond and Rachel Mathiesen. On Monday they laughed and swatted at the yellow jackets.
They were covered in mud – dirty, sweaty, sticky – and hauling bags practically bigger than they were. It was surreal to see so much waste, and a week later Cecilia, says, “Even dumping out the pickles was hard. Sue has worked to build up all this.”
Difficult time Her voice chokes up as she describes the scene and says again, “It was really hard,” but the girls didn’t show that. No, they smiled. Cecilia explains, “We wanted to be cheerful. We decided we couldn’t let the owners see how upset we were.”
Next, they went to Sweet Peas’ basement and shoveled out four inches of mud, bucket by bucket, and then went to the school, just showing up wherever they might be needed. Sami Hunt is now in Arkville cooking in the firehall and compiling lists of kids who need school supplies. Her voice is quiet almost a whisper, as if to hide the sadness of the work. “For each grade,” she says, “we have a list of five or six names.”
There have been countless heroic moments this past week, some small some big, but in this all the local kids have shined. You see them in videos of the cleanup, filling trash bags at the school. All of the children have been saddened by the losses. By Sunday some couldn’t face a sixth day in town.
Twelve-year-old Kevin Hubbell says, “It’s awful to see the place you pass through every day trashed to pieces.” He and his sister Erin are now officially Roxbury Central School students, yet they asked their mom to bring them with her when she came to the village at eight on Monday morning. They went to the thrift store where Erin was driving the backhoe, getting out soggy, muddy boxes.
Tess Svoboda worked in the village and then at her own job afterward. Her mother Pat said that on Tess’s Facebook wall, she’d written, “Everything I know is gone.” The effects of the flood will be profound for these kids, but they’re proud of their village. Their parents didn’t tell them to volunteer. They just came.
Returns home to help
Casey Hubbell was at college when the storm hit, and as soon as classes were done on Thursday, she was back. She and her cousin Erin helped clean the tennis courts. Both said the work was disgusting, Casey describing it as “four inches of mud like Silly Putty” and called the smell a combination clay and oil and something we can’t quite print here.
Now she’s down in Dry Brook with her father Rudd Hubbell where Casey is driving excavators and back hoes, articulated dump trucks as the workers try to claw out some kind of road and return the river to its course. She says she’ll be back again next Thursday and on into the future as long as she’s needed.
Countless others have helped, more than the News could track down by press time. Matthew and Jason Grey moved hay bales stranded on Main Street and hauled in the first loads of Red Cross food to the firehall on Sunday night as it still rained.
From young children to those who’ve recently left for college, they’ve come to clean the soccer fields and muck out basements. If the children are the future, our area has a strong one.
When asked her hopes after the flood, Erin said, “We’ve all been working well together, and I want that to continue because our community has gotten a lot closer and stronger.”