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$100,000 grant to provide school children with essentials

By Staff | Jul 29, 2020

A foundation which has a philosophy of being proactive in the community in identifying social and educational needs of children, has teamed up with United Way of Lee, Hendry, Glades and Okeechobee Counties and the School District of Lee County to provide clothes, shoes and school supplies to those children in need.

“We believe that we can really make a big difference in the lives of children in the schools,” The John E. and Aliese Price Foundation President and CEO Kenneth Walker said. “It’s so important for them to have proper clothing and shoes and school supplies. It is important for developing a positive self-image.”

This program, which is the first one in the foundation’s new philosophy of being proactive in identifying social and education needs in the community, will launch this fall due to a $100,000 commitment from the Price Foundation to United Way. The foundation will allocate $25,000 per year for the next four years, with plans to continue after that if the program is successful.

Clothing, shoes, hygiene items and school supplies will be provided to children who may be struggling with homelessness, or other challenges, identified by the School District of Lee County social workers and school resource officers through the United Way Gifts in Kind program.

United Way’s Vice President of Community Impact Hannah Pelle said by having a multi-layered approach with social workers and SROs, when a cold snap happens and little Johnny does not have a jacket, the SRO can let the social worker know immediately.

“We will be able to get a jacket and long clothing with no qualifications,” she said. “If someone at the school sees a child is in need . . . wearing the same clothing three days in a row . . . they know there is a problem and we want to help them,” Pelle said.

Another factor, Pelle explained, dealt with an increase of child abuse since children have been home and out of school due to COVID-19. She said many of the children have been removed from their home and placed with a family member or someone they know instead of going straight into foster care.

Pelle said Johnny, who is now living with his grandparents, does not have clothing due to their grandparents being on a fixed income of Social Security.

“Those children will also be able to take advantage of this,” she said.

Walker said the “store” will be open all year long.

“It will be there and available anytime a social worker finds a need,” he said.

Those resources of clothing, shoes, hygiene products and school supplies will come directly from manufactures across the country.

Pelle recently acquired $49,000 worth of clothing for just a small shipping cost. The anticipation is that the $100,000 could generate as much as $3.2 million in goods to provide for the children due to the United Way’s relationship with vendors and donors.

“Everything is brand new. We are not taking gently used items. They are items with dignity. Everything is brand new,” Pelle said, due to the partnerships they have built through their Gifts of Kind program.

For example Calvin Klein just gave them 4,000 pairs of jeans because the company decided to change the denim.

Other companies include Nike and Guess, many with the price tags still attached to the merchandise.

To house all of these items, the School District of Lee County has provided them a very large room at no cost. Only social workers will have access to the room, the Community Impact Center.

“The school district has given us a large area that we will be filling and will be ready as soon as school is back,” Pelle said.

They are trying to keep the process very simple for social workers. All they have to do is sign in, grab the items they need, record how many items they are taking and share how many youths they are serving.

“We just want it to be easy for social workers. You can enter this room, get sizes and then you’re out,” she said.

“We are extremely grateful to The John E. & Aliese Price Foundation and the United Way for creating this unique program that will help our children succeed,” Community Engagement of the Lee County School District Coordinator Adam Molloy said in a prepared statement.

Pelle said what they have found is if they choose to have space at United Way, or the Price Foundation, social workers have to find time during their week to make the stop. With social workers visiting the district every single week, to have access to the room within the school district office, all they have to do is shop and grab whatever they need and take it back to the schools.

With this new partnership, all sizes will be available in clothing and shoes. The space will continue to be restocked weekly, if not monthly.

“This is going to be a great project,” Pelle said. “We are going to see a lot more children experience needs after COVID-19. Parents don’t have extra funds for back to school shopping. They are struggling to pay electric bills. With this barrier removed, we feel like we will serve a lot more families.”

Walker said he does not believe anyone could make this happen except the United Way.

“They have the experience, know how and a long history in this community of being very successful at meeting the community’s needs,” he said. “It’s just amazing, you can see this huge volume of clothing, backpacks, school supplies and hygiene items . . . unless you have seen this, it is hard to imagine what a wonderful project this is going to be and make a big difference. It will enable these children to focus their attention on learning, on their school work and help them develop self-confidence, instead of having to worry about not having school supplies and clothing that they need.”

Walker said the project involves many agencies and organizations working together, which is part of their goal because they can make a greater impact.

“I think this is just the beginning,” he said. “We will be looking for other areas where we can serve children. Serving children will be our passion for this year and ongoing.”

Other areas, Walker said they would like to focus on is mental health care, dental care and eye care.

“We will be exploring other areas to maybe bring other organizations in to form a team,” he said.