With the holidays and cold weather upon us, these times can be especially hard for people in the Cleveland community living in poverty. In an effort to help these students, school social worker Kate Allen has been at the forefront of two recent fundraisers that are actively supplying Cleveland students with food, money, school supplies, and warm clothes. These projects, CHS Gives Back and the mini food pantry, are excellent resources for any student in need during the cold winter months.
CHS Gives Back was created three years ago by the then freshman (now junior) class of 2019. Now, the school-wide fundraiser lives on, and will supply 46 people in 12 families with a holiday celebration and meal that they normally wouldn’t receive. It will also give money to these same struggling Cleveland students and their families.
“I am blown away by the generosity of this community, and that we had about 15 teachers that gave up their own personal time to shop for gifts, to wrap gifts…The teachers and the parents and the kids have been really phenomenal,” Allen said. “It’s been amazing.”
Overall, the school managed to raise $5,411.34, just over the $5,000 amount they were hoping for. The freshman class raised $1,762.48, the sophomores raised $658.26, the juniors $277.86, and the seniors raised $212.71, but the biggest donation came from online, where someone donated an incredibly generous $2,500.03.
Thanks to this total, not only do many families get items they need for the holiday season, but a few teachers have promised to reward the students with laughs. Jan Watt, special projects coordinator, pledged to dye her hair purple; Liz Crow, math teacher, promised a spray tan; Erik Running, math teacher, said he would shave his head; and Brenda Gordon, science teacher, said she would get a tattoo. Teachers also said they would do things like get water ballooned, dance at the assembly, dress funny for a week, and get a pie in the face.
“We’ve been pushing for it this year and really spent a lot of time working on it. I really think that it’s a great thing that this school is doing. It’s all going back to families in need through the holidays,” said Nick Paesler, junior class president.
In addition to CHS Gives Back, Allen has also organized the Cleveland mini food pantry, which opened Dec. 1 of this year and is located in room 337 on the third floor of the building. The pantry boasts an impressive collection of food staples, school supplies, jackets, beanies, leggings, gloves and boots, plus huge bags for students to collect what’s needed. This resource was created when SSC staff members asked Allen to reorganize the food pantry located there.
“The counselors were saying we didn’t have a more organized or discreet way to give out the food,” said Allen. “I just took the resources we already had and organized them to form the mini food pantry on the third floor.” With all of these staples at the ready, students are welcome to drop in Fridays at lunch, or Allen can accompany students up by appointment for an increased sense of privacy. “I want to make it as comfortable as possible to get help. There is a kind of stigma around asking for help with food and clothing, especially in a community where not everyone is struggling with resources,” said Allen.
Susie Brighouse, English and freshman leadership teacher, agrees. “You don’t see the need around here because people don’t want other people to see the need. They don’t come asking for it, so it’s harder to find,” she said.
This issue can be addressed by erasing the stigma surrounding monetary instability. In the words of Allen, “If more people spread the word that there are students here with food security issues, if people can take pictures and put it on social media, or tell friends and really spread the word, then that’s one way to normalize it. Portland is a really expensive city to live in, and of course there’s going to be families going through a hard time. Every family could go through a hard time.”
These two well-publicized fundraisers are perfect ways to start chipping away at stigma in the school, as well as great opportunities to help out students in need.