Wednesday, October 21, 2020 by Carol Britton Meyer
That's because when Hingham resident Stephanie Gertz, the Plymouth River School METCO liaison, learned that Department of Elementary & Secondary Education guidance requires that bus windows be kept open at all times during operation except under "extreme weather conditions," she decided to take action before really cold weather set in.
The idea of providing warm blankets for the students came to mind: "Why should they have to wear extra layers of clothing just to keep warm on the bus?" Gretz thought.
After posting a request for recommendations for inexpensive, durable, and comfortable blankets on the Wellesley College Alumnae Association Facebook page, Gertz heard back almost immediately from Allison Mael, owner of MPG Promotions, who offered to donate 60 navy blue fleece blankets.
"This started out as a germ of an idea, and before I knew it, I had a large supply of blankets sitting in my garage," Gretz said.
Goodwin Graphics of Cohasset donated half of the cost of the bags the blankets are stored in during the week when the students aren't using them, and Dependable Cleaners at the Shipyard offered to wash the blankets weekly, free of charge, for a couple of months.
Gertz also reached out to the Hingham Unity Council, which contributed the remaining $60 to cover the costs, to help in setting the plan in motion. Every week HCU volunteers bring clean blankets to the HPS Transportation Department and take the used blankets to Dependable Cleaners. The clean blankets remain on the bus during the week, and each student has his or her own designated blanket for that entire time. The extra blankets help keep the process simple.
Gretz expressed appreciation for all who have offered to help, including HPS Transportation Supervisor Padraig "Patrick" Cunningham, for his cooperation in ensuring the blankets get on and off the bus.
"This was just something that clutched at our hearts. It's an easy project to help make the students' experience more pleasant," Gertz said. "The kids love the blankets, which are very soft and cozy. They wrapped themselves up in them and wore them the whole way home on the first day they had them."
The HPS district has participated in the METCO program for more than 50 years. METCO is a state-funded grant program that promotes diversity and educational opportunity for thousands of students from Boston and other areas in more that 30 Massachusetts communities, including Hingham.
HCU member Katie Sutton said she was "thrilled" when she heard Gertz's idea: "Stephanie basically did all the legwork on her own before she even presented it to the Council. Her thoughtfulness honestly really moved me," Sutton said. "HUC is working on ways to better support our METCO families, but obviously this needs to be done by working with them -- not just doing things we think they want -- and COVID-19 has further complicated everything."
The blanket program seemed like a "really helpful, cozy way to show our METCO kids that they are an important part of our community," Sutton said. "We hope to identify some other initiatives very soon."
For further information or to help with transferring the blankets, email StephJLG@aol.com.