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St. James students helping Indiana school rebuild after tornado

Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
St. James School librarian Gayle Salvatore reads a book to first-graders Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. Salvatore organized a letter campaign to help a school in Indiana devastated by a tornado refill its library with books.

Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, 9:02 p.m.

Students at St. James School in Sewickley are helping an Indiana elementary school rebuild its library after a tornado leveled its building in March.

Students in fourth through eighth grades have been busy for the past few weeks writing letters to Henryville Elementary School students after reading an article about the disaster in the September issue of Scholastic's Storyworks magazine. The company offered to make a donation to the school in the name of Storyworks readers for every letter received.

The article was written by Storyworks editor Lauren Tarshis after she was approached by three Henryville fifth-graders about the 175-mph twister that devastated their small town. Tarshis also has penned a series of books called, “ I Survived” about events and disasters such as the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Sept. 11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina.

“The children were so interested in the story,” St. James School librarian Gayle Salvatore said, adding that it would be “wonderful” if every school that read the article got involved.

After all, Salvatore knows how those in Henryville must feel. Having lived in New Orleans for nearly her entire life, she is no stranger to Mother Nature's fury.

“It's one of those things that you learn to live with,” she said.

“But I know what it's like to lose everything.”

Though Salvatore left New Orleans and moved to the area in 2003 to be closer to family, her husband stayed behind to take care of his sick brother and maintain the house they owned. In August 2005, days before Hurricane Katrina hit, she received a call from her daughter that “dad is not leaving.”

Knowing the dangers — roads are closed prior to the storm, making it impossible for people to get out of town or those rendering aid get in—they convinced him to leave. He went and hunkered down with friends in Mississippi, though Katrina did not spare that area, either.

In Mississippi, the storm blew out windows and knocked out power, Salvatore said. Her husband and friends were left without air conditioning to help bear the 100-degree heat in the days that followed. They were forced to sleep in cars with the doors opened.

“It was three or four months before the government let us in (to New Orleans) to assess the damage,” Salvatore said.

As a librarian who spent much of her 60-year career in New Orleans, Salvatore knows just how important the letter-writing campaign will be to help rebuild Henryville Elementary School's library.

“During Katrina, so many libraries lost all of their books,” she said.

Karen Scully, a language arts teacher at St. James, said the students' letters should be sent out by the end of the month.

Kristina Serafini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1405 or

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