by Cateia Rembert

For most PA/PTAs, March is usually an exciting time. The majority of the school year is over, and the PTA board is knee-deep in orchestrating annual celebrations. Fundraising is the cornerstone of many parent organizations, and springtime galas & auctions are often our bread and butter—our biggest source of funds for extra school programming.

But March 2020 shaped up differently.

Conversations on the playground were suddenly focused on when schools would be closed and for how long. Parent leaders were consistently engaging with their schools’ administrations—not about the logistics of ticket sales but about hand sanitizer supplies and cleaning protocols.

Operating a PTA during a global pandemic was uncharted territory. But even under quarantine, our organization, the PTA at PS 15 in Red Hook, Brooklyn, worked to mold new forms of togetherness.

Even before Covid-19, District 15’s Presidents’ Council had been discussing the disparities between PA/PTAs in our district and what we could do to help close those gaps. The coronavirus crisis made those concerns even more urgent—and that is how the Adopt-a-Family program was born.

The Adopt-a-Family program started out as an outreach email from our assistant principal to the PTA executive board expressing deep concerns about the needs of our school’s families during the crisis. Then a week or so following school closure, the Presidents’ Council held a Zoom meeting to discuss how PTAs could assist one another during the shutdown. I described the struggles families at my school were experiencing and Sara Thompson, PTA president of PS 39 in Park Slope, chimed in to say she had a network of parents looking to help. That connection between our two schools is what made helping hundreds of families in our community possible.

Sara and I were the lead organizers, and our PTA executive boards and school administrations were our supporting players.

PA/PTA regulations prohibit fund transfers between parent organizations, so we had to figure out another way. We did, by having families “adopt” other families.

The coronavirus shutdown has been a strain on students, teachers, and parents alike. But the Adopt-a-Family project shows what PA/PTAs can accomplish when it really counts.

Cateia Rembert, PS 15 PTA President

Here’s how the Adopt-a-Family program worked:

We created two “teams”—Team A recruited parent and community donors to purchase essentials—including school supplies (pencils, erasers, workbooks) as well as household items (diapers, food, hand soap)—to families from Team B. Supplies were shipped directly, via an Amazon “wish list,” keeping families safe.

Team B created a spreadsheet that identified families who need support. The spreadsheet tracked students’ home address, class assignment, parents’ information, and notes about their circumstances. We created both a donor form and a sponsorship form for families who needed help. The Team B “covid committee,” led by our assistant principal, also did contactless drop-offs for students who needed school supplies right away.

Once Team B’s immediate needs were met, they became a Team A for another neighboring school. So far more than 300 families have received supply packages.

Because some families also struggled with rent and bills, we created a GoFundMe project to raise additional funds. We set a dollar amount we’d allocate to each family and scaled up that number for anyone needing extra support. In just three weeks, we collected more than $9,000, which was distributed among 30 families (and counting).

Transparency is important when implementing anything new. Our PTA executive board approved the program to support our school community and designated three members (president, vice president and treasurer) to oversee all financial transactions. Donations were first vetted by the assistant principal and then approved by two different PTA parents. All funds were kept separate from our general PTA budget, and we kept impeccable records.

Just a few months ago my chief concern was how to get more parents involved, which isn't a foreign concept for any PTA leader. But this crisis inspired a wave of new volunteers to get involved and make a positive impact. The coronavirus shutdown has been a strain on students, teachers, and parents alike. But the Adopt-a-Family project shows what PA/PTAs can accomplish when it really counts.