Natalia Lusinski
November 29, 2015 6:20 am

It’s hard to do anything, like go to work or class, if we’re hungry and we don’t have access to basic necessities. Administrators and the student government at Washington High School, in Washington, North Carolina, understood that and opened anonymous “shopping” areas that provide students in need with food, school supplies, clothes, and hygiene items.

Washington High School is located in Beaufort County, where 21 percent of residents live below the poverty level, according to the U.S. Census. The school already offered free and reduced meals to underprivileged students, but, sometimes, those were the only meals they had all day, Walker said.
“There have been times when students come up to me in the hallways and they would ask me if I had toothpaste because they didn’t have any toothpaste at home,” she said.

Of course, Walker always helped her students out with their toothpaste needs, but she knew she had to do something more.

“What we’re learning is that if we’re not helping meet the basic needs of our students, it’s very difficult for our students to focus on academics,” Walker said to People.

She got together with Bright Futures, an affiliate of Bright Futures USA, a non-profit organization known for helping communities and schools. Along with student leaders, they first created a hygiene closet full of “teen-friendly” food items, such as cereal bars and other easy-to-eat foods. After testing it out and seeing its popularity, donors, food drives, and churches helped out, too, and the school added a food pantry, clothing area, and school supplies. Awww.

To avoid embarrassment or shame, students can go to a school worker on the DL, then get what they need from the shelves of items. “For our students who have a lot of needs, sometimes they’re hesitant to let someone know what their needs are,” Walker said. “But once they develop a relationship [with a guidance counselor or teacher] and you treat them in a professional, genuine caring manner, it helps build their self-esteem.”

Names of students and what they take is not logged. “It is completely anonymous,” Walker said to People. “So that when students have needs, they come and they ask and we meet them… What’s interesting is that sometimes there’s a notion that students may want to be greedy and take a lot. And what we find is that our students are very judicious in what they take and we actually have to encourage them to take more.”

The program began about two months ago. In its first six weeks, Walker thought that approximately 15 percent of the student body has used it.

“…What we’re seeing is an increase in self-esteem,” said Walker. “And students who have needs, they are being met,” she said. Plus, the whole thing leads to more communication between administrators and students.

Sounds like a win-win for everybody.

Eventually, perhaps in a year, Walker hopes they can go from using canned and prepackaged food to fresh food — direct from their horticulture program.

If you, too, want to help — even if you’re not in Washington, North Carolina — you can donate items or money directly to the school. Donations can also be made to Bright Future Beaufort County through the Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce.

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