Freeport-McMoRan Norwich operation donated $10,000 to Norwich schools' picnic table fundraiser.

September 14, 2020
The Day

As the Freeport-McMoRan copper plant on Wawecus Street prepared to close, employees asked plant manager James Hodson if they could buy their desks, some furnishings and office supplies as they prepared to leave jobs some have held for decades. The Phoenix-based company readily agreed, since it wouldn’t want to ship the items across the country, Hodson said. Items were priced cheaply, and the auction sales yielded some $10,000.

Then after reading a news story that the Norwich Public Schools Education Foundation was seeking donations to buy picnic tables for outdoor classes, lunch and mask breaks, Hodson contacted the Phoenix headquarters again. “I knew they would have no issue with it, because they’ve always given to a lot — Mohegan Park, United Way and a number of charitable things,” Hodson said. “It made so much sense.”

“I had to read the email over and over so many times before it sank in,” Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow said at a check presentation ceremony held outside the Samuel Huntington School Monday. “It is very overwhelming. We’re so grateful.” The nonprofit education foundation launched a fund drive in August to raise $20,000 to buy 100 picnic tables, enough for 10 per school. Two handicapped accessible tables will be purchased for the Thomas Mahan and Uncas elementary schools.

Before Monday’s donation, the foundation had raised $7,857, foundation president and Board of Education member Kevin Saythany said. “This brings us much closer to our goal,” he said. The tables are being ordered from Amazon, and soon, the foundation will call for volunteers for a weekend assembly event. “We saw an overwhelming response from the Norwich community,” past education foundation president Mark Cook said. “It was really heartening to see, but not surprising, because those of us who live and work here, we know what this city is all about. And we’re at our best when times are at their worst.”

Freeport McMoRan is mostly closed now, Hodson said, with just the disassembly of equipment and shuttering the plant left. Most of the 117 employees have been laid off and received severance packages from the company. He said many have found jobs and some are still looking. Hodson said some Freeport employees have children in the Norwich school system and embraced the idea of making the donation for the picnic tables.

Stringfellow said the entire community has supported the project. People have been dropping off $200 donations to the school office saying they want to buy a picnic table in the memory of a favorite teacher or other school staff member. A local jeweler is donating engraved plaques for the dedicated tables. “The generosity of this community and how they have just wrapped their arms around our children, it makes you fill up with tears,” Stringfellow said to Hodson Monday. “It makes you appreciate life and know that there are good, loving people in our community. And we are very, very grateful for your support.”

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