Throughout the high school boys basketball season, North Delta Secondary teacher Sandra Peel has been the Huskies’ biggest fan.
Every game, home and away, Peel would sit directly behind the team’s bench and shout encouragement to the players. She would even bring fruit and snacks for them, always making sure they had everything they needed to be successful.
She was loud, but positive.
Peel isn’t a coach. In fact, she has never played basketball. But the connections she has made beyond the classroom and on the court is scoring the teacher some points in the wake of a devastating fire that left her homeless.
On Sunday (May 15), the condominium complex in White Rock Peel has called home for 12 years burned to the ground, displacing her and more than 100 residents.
Peel, 64, had no insurance for her possessions, an oversight in a busy life.
She lost everything she owned.
On Monday morning, news of the devastating fire began to filter through the staff and students at the North Delta school and everyone soon learned one of their own had been affected.
That’s when a group of staff members decided to come together to help. Through an online campaign, the students and staff raised $7,500 for Peel in 24 hours – a total that as of Wednesday afternoon had reached more than $14,000.
However, members of the school’s boys’ junior and senior basketball teams felt a strong connection to the teacher and wanted to do more.
“All year, our coaches have been teaching us if one of your teammates goes down, you help them up,” said Brandon Bassi, 16. “Because we’re all one and Ms. Peel is just like another teammate to us, that’s how much she means to us. Once a Husky, always a Husky.”
No matter where the team played all season, he said, Peel was there to support them, so it was now their obligation to help her back to her feet.
“Ms. Peel wasn’t just a teacher to us, she was a parent figure as well,” added Armaan Johal. “She cares about all of us.”
In addition to the school’s GoFundMe page, the team plans to raise $150 per player, most likely through a bottle drive, to add a personal contribution to the fundraising efforts.
As an English and humanities teacher, Peel is tough, Bassi said. She makes her students work. But the purpose of her direct approach to learning is not lost on them.
“She’s a hard teacher, she marks hard,” he said. “But that’s just because she want the best. She wants us to succeed.”
For Peel (left), the outpouring of support had been heartwarming and emotional and has helped to cushion her devastating loss.
The fire that burned her condo complex began in a construction site next door. Hearing the fire alarm early Sunday morning, Peel ran out of her building with only the clothes on her back. Once the blaze jumped from the new construction project to Peel’s building, the inferno couldn’t be contained.
Currently staying with family on Vancouver Island, Peel hopes to be back in the classroom soon. She’s grateful for all the positive messages she has received, but she’s not surprised, noting she always had a simple message for her students.
“I’ve always said to my kids, ‘it’s not what you do when people are watching, it’s what you do when people aren’t watching,’ and that’s what they’re doing now.”
Her connection North Delta runs deep, as both of her children graduated from North Delta Secondary nearly 20 years ago.
During the teachers’ strike last year, the union gave out food vouchers to help them get through a tough financial time. Peel knew one of her colleagues, new to the profession, was struggling to support his young family, so she gave her vouchers to him. Her only stipulation was that he pay it forward some day.
This week she noticed an online donation from that same teacher.
“He paid me back for what I had done,” said Peel, her voice breaking. “That’s just so awesome. That’s just what people do.”
If you would like to help, go to The Phoenix Campaign – Help Ms. Peel at http://bit.ly/1XAmSEJ
To help other victims of the White Rock fire, go to http://bit.ly/1WB1Arx