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Green Middle School assisting students in need

2/16/2017 - South Side Leader
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By Maria Lindsay

The Green Middle School Pantry, created in the fall, stocks a variety of items, some of which are shown above, to help students in need.
Photo: Maria Lindsay
GREEN — Green Middle School is working to ensure all of its 700 students succeed not just academically but also in life by quietly offering those in need some help with the basic necessities of daily living.

According to Green Local Schools Communications and Community Relations Director Julie McMahan, 25 percent of the district’s students qualified for the free or reduced-price lunch program this year, and Green Middle School has the greatest number of families in need.

Assistant Principal Krista Ross said school officials learned in the fall that several of their students’ families were living in a hotel due to economic circumstances.

School Counselor Katie Bowman added she has listened to a number of students share stories about their families’ need for assistance.

Green Middle School officials decided to address the matter by creating a “pantry” filled with personal toiletries, laundry detergent, toilet paper and paper towels, new and gently used clothes for teens, as well as socks and shoes.

“We thought this would be a beneficial thing,” said Ross.

The pantry, set up in a storage closet, was stocked with donations mostly from staff but also with items from the community, according to Ross.

She added they decided to create an in-house program to more quickly address identified needs and to offer a more discreet method of helping students and their families.

Ross stated that after the pantry was set up, a letter was sent home with all students offering parents help with these supplies, and it also asked them if there were other needs with which the school could assist. Parents were invited to return the letter with a checklist of needed items, and officials then made contact to tell them they could come to the school to pick up the items themselves or have them sent home in a discreet bag with a student member of the family.

Bowman stated that staff members could also refer a student they believed to be in need to the program.

“Students in middle school are at a tough age,” said Ross. “They are trying to find themselves. Not being able to afford clothing and other items is important.”

Ross stated in addition to the responses from the letter sent home, students have come forward with requests for clothing such as T-shirts and personal hygiene products such as deodorant.

She added that when the pantry stock gets low, an email is sent out to staff seeking donations to replenish it.

“Everyone has wrapped their hands around this and donated to the pantry,” said Ross. “The staff has been great and they donate items whenever needed.”

The pantry also got some assistance from Green City Councilman James Ahlstrom (Ward 1), who stepped forward when supplies were running low to donate $250.

Ross said they are making the most of that money with help from science, technology, engineering and mathematics teacher Paula Warner, who, along with a group she is involved in, has used extreme couponing to stretch those dollars.

“We are a family here at the middle school, and this is just another way we can help our own,” said Warner. “It will take me years to spend that money.”

Ross said Ahlstrom also stepped forward to help with another need for these families. She explained that staff members had passed along information about seeing students come in with clothing in obvious need of cleaning, and in one case, a student one morning brought in athletic clothes to be used for after school practice that had been hand-washed (and thus not cleaned well) and still wet. The student had asked school officials if the items could be hung somewhere to dry in time for practice.

Ross stated the pantry got “a huge boost” just before Christmas when Ahlstrom donated a used washer and dryer.

“This has been a real blessing,” said Ross. “We use them on a daily basis. Our students can bring in a bag of clothing that needs to be washed, and we will have them cleaned and ready for pickup before they are ready to go home for the day.”

Ross said students bring the clothes in commonly used sports duffle bags to not draw attention to the help they are requesting.

Warner stated there are a number of school efforts that occur simultaneously when a student is identified as being in need, and it is difficult to isolate the effect the program is having on students.

Ross said, however, the staff has shared with her they have noticed students who have received help look better, feel better and are more confident.

“Students can focus on academics better when they are not worried about what they look like,” said Warner.

The school is accepting cash, toiletries and household cleaning supplies to help stock the pantry, but not clothing due to space limitations.

Nonperishable food also may be donated for the Blessings in a Backpack program, which sends a backpack filled with food home with students in need on weekends.

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