SYLVA, NC – Recently, the Jackson County Public Schools Student Support Services office was made aware of two students who were in desperate need of clean clothes and a shower. Before the end of the day, towels, toiletries, and clean clothes were purchased and delivered to the school. Ashley Taylor, the department’s data manager said, “The clothes are being washed, and the students can shower and change clothes every morning right there at the school.”
Nearly every day, JCPS school social workers, counselors, and nurses meet similar needs in the district’s nine schools. Superintendent Dr. Kimberly Elliott believes the role of public education includes providing every child with whatever support they need to be successful. She said, “We make their school experience the best it can possibly be.”
However, maintaining resources to meet the basic needs of students who are disadvantaged or homeless is very expensive. So, in November 2018, the school district held the first “Stuff the Bus” event at Ingles in Sylva to collect food, clothing, and toiletries for students in need. Ashley Taylor coordinated the event and said, “The community showed up for us bigger and better than we expected.”
By the end of last year’s event, it took three school buses to hold all of the donations. “In hygiene and snack items alone,” Taylor said, “we collected more than 13,000 items.” Those items were organized and stored in seven locations across the school district known as “comfort closets.” From January through June 2019, no fewer than 1,341 families were served from the comfort closets.
The 2019 “Stuff the Bus” event will be held in Dillsboro near Jarrett Memorial Baptist Church during the Lights and Luminaries festival from 6:00 to 9:00 PM on December 6, 7, 13, and 14. Rather than using an actual bus, items will be collected in a custom miniature school bus built by students at Jackson Community School.
Taylor said monetary contributions are particularly important. “Our main focus is hitting our goal for the year of $10,000.” She said gift cards are the best way to donate. They allow the district to provide immediate assistance and meet the unique needs of each student. Taylor said gift cards from local businesses that sell groceries and shoes are especially helpful, and she noted that Shoe Show gift cards give the district a 15% discount.
The comfort closets currently have more than enough clothing, so clothing will not be collected at this year’s event. However, jackets, coats, and blankets are still needed and can be dropped off at the Board of Education building.
Another priority for this year’s event is collecting food and snacks that do not require an oven. The district plans to assemble up to 350 small food bags with snacks and microwavable items to send home with students as needed for the upcoming winter break.
The food bags are especially important because federal funds allotted for homeless students cannot be used to purchase food other than school breakfast and lunch. JCPS Director of Student Support Services Kelly Doppke said, “We know that students cannot begin to make academic gains until basic needs are met, so we are working hard to make sure all students have what they need to be happy, healthy, and safe.”
If you would like more information about this topic, call Ashley Taylor at (828) 586-2311 ext. 1922 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.