Winter, particularly the stretch from Thanksgiving to New Years, is especially challenging for many schools located in high poverty rural and urban communities. Teachers wrap up units and collect essays, anticipating days to rest, catch up on grading, and reconnect with their spouses and children. For many of our students, the holidays are not times of joy but rather a reminder of scarcity.
In response to that scarcity, each year my principal pulls a Commissioner Gordon, sending out the bat-signal and asking teachers and community members to collect peanut butter, jelly, and other non-perishables so that we can send home food with our McKinney-Vento students’ families. The McKinney-Vento Act, a federal law, requires that schools provide “educational stability for homeless children and youth.” Like many federal and state mandates, this program is underfunded. McKinney-Vento partially funds “educational needs” such as transportation, school supplies, class fees, and ASB cards (allowing students to participate in clubs, sports, and school activities).
Our McKinney-Vento students aren’t the only ones in need. Many LHS students rely on school breakfast and lunch to give them sustenance for the day. Teenage stomachs are bottomless pits. My students are hungry all the time. It’s difficult to imagine how they survive the winter break when their primary nutritional source is closed. This is why we do what we do at Lincoln—-we pack two weeks worth of easy to prepare groceries in order to offset the driving hunger. In additional to our McKinney-Vento students, my colleagues and I usually identify about forty families who need financial support. It seems that every year our list of families in needs grows longer.
This is why many schools, like my own, desperately rely on strong community involvement.
When we sent out the signal in the beginning of Dec, we expected some help from our usual supports. We hoped there would be enough to cover the increased number of LHS families in need this year. What we didn’t expect was 3x the aid!
- Team Backpack gifted 102 backpacks bursting with PJs, toiletries, and a new jacket for each homeless student.
- A church donated toothpaste, shampoo, feminine products, and other desperately needed toiletries.
- Someone brought in 40 blankets.
- The Iron Workers Union supported 70 families with gifts under the tree.
- Absher Construction supported 74 families with Christmas dinners that included a huge
- Compassionate individuals organized their workplaces to collect donations to purchase Christmas dinners for more Lincoln families.
- Businesses like Tacoma’s Best Grooming sponsored specific families on our list.
- Life Center, East Side Community Church, Soma, and other faith communities sponsored families dinners, and gave generous donations so we could purchase the items we needed to fill boxes to the brim with groceries for over 90 families AND send kids home with gift cards so they could have a Christmas!
- Ken, a friend from church, connected us with God’s Portion who brought in an hundreds of boxes of Kettle chips & popcorn. There was so much that my ASB students stood outside the entrances to our school handing out bags of chips to each student!
- Many others–names I don’t know– donated their time to organize, sort, and lovingly pack bags and boxes. You know who you are. Thank you.
I conservatively guess that 200-ish families will have a more joyful holiday because of the kindness of “strangers”. We are grateful for every last dollar or item donated.
We all know schools are grossly under-funded in Washington state. Although economic indicators tell us otherwise, many communities are yet to recover from the Great Recession of 2008. School and community programs that support families are essential, and finding sustainable school funding is critical especially for the most vulnerable children in our society.