Wayland-Cohocton students step up, offer aid to community after Main Street fire

Students worked on the clothing drive, part of a relief effort by local churches, community members, area families and the Wayland American Legion

By Abigail Ferro, Johnathan Lander, Raven Parkison, Trevor Donlon, Emma Huber
Special to The Express
Wayland-Cohocton students have been actively supporting the businesses and families affected by the Feb. 22 Main Street fire. Pictured back row left to right: Landen McCarthy, Jesse Smith, Harlee Grodis, Raven Parkison, Eli Vosburg, Ethan Loop, Natalie Williamson, Sam Drake, Olivia Schecter, Lauren Ruch, Dakota Smith, Audrey Vosburg. Second row left to right: Max Brown, Julia Wray, Grace Bondgren, Abby Loop, Victoria Bevis, Chelsie Mehlenbacher. Front row left to right: Theressa Swingle, Kayla Flickinger, Helena Jones, Kailyn Mark, Carter Webster, Zach Semmel, Jordan Kelly.

WAYLAND — The Wayland area community has been actively supporting the businesses and families affected by the fire on Main Street on Feb. 22.

Students from Wayland-Cohocton School worked on the clothing drive, organized by members of the community as part of a greater relief effort by local churches, community members, area families, and the Wayland American Legion, who made their building available for the volunteer efforts.

“We live in such a small community that when anything that happens of that magnitude, it impacts your community, impacts your school, it really impacts everybody,” said Wayland-Cohocton Superintendent Eileen Feinman.

The impact of the fire hit local families pretty hard.

“They only had what was on their backs," said Danielle Blair, a Teacher Aide at Cohocton Elementary.

Blair volunteers every year to do an annual clothing drive. For the last two years, she hasn’t had the opportunity to do it due to Covid-19 restrictions. About a month ago, Mrs. Feinman gave her the okay to start collecting clothes again. When the fire happened, she jumped on the opportunity to use the clothes that she had already collected for a clothing drive.

"For the fire victims, it provided immediate clothing to the families that did not have the supplies,” said Blair.  

The community also provided non-perishable food items, toiletries and other supplies for about three to four months for the families.

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A large part of the volunteer effort from Wayland-Cohocton High School was from the Drama Club. Advisers Matt Bondgren and Maryalice Peaty got a call at rehearsal the day of the fire that they needed volunteers to help with the clothing drive at the Wayland Legion.

“We just were in a rehearsal,” said Peaty. “They asked for help and we all just left.”

“In our jobs we think that it is important to teach kids to give back to their community,” said Bondgren.

The Drama Club students had been thinking about the fire all day and were eager to assist.

“People brought in different bags of clothes, food, and toiletries to the Legion,” said Lauren Ruch, a senior at Wayland-Cohocton. “We had to fold and sort through the women’s and men’s clothing, along with the food and toiletries.”

“The people of the community really needed it,” added Raven Parkison, a junior at Wayland-Cohocton.

A Feb. 22 fire on Wayland's Main Street has left several businesses closed and put the future of the structures in doubt.

Many other community members came forward to help. On one of the local social media groups, one volunteer created a list where donations can be offered. Some of those things include appliances and household items that can be donated in the future, when the families find a permanent residence. There were many anonymous donations.

“I just think that it is a good thing to give back to the community, especially due to how devastating the fire was,” said Ruch.

“To be able to help them out was really nice,” added Parkison.

In the days following the fire, help continued to arrive from other students and members of the community. For some students, it was their first volunteer experience.

“I think it’s a very very valuable experience," said Feinman. "Our community does so much for each other and this was a great example of how much our community rallied together and did what was needed to provide support and help to these families. I’m really really proud of the kids that did that."