Backpacks provide help for homeless students

BALLWIN, Mo. (AP) — Staff, parents and students in a suburban St. Louis school district are filling backpacks as part of an effort to provide a helping hand for homeless classmates.

A report in Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis (http://bit.ly/z09Qyi) says 160 of the more than 22,200 students in the Rockwood School District are homeless.

Each weekend, needy students receive backpacks filled with food items that are easy to open and simple to prepare. Parents of the students must give permission.

Terry Harris, Rockwood’s coordinator of educational equity and diversity, said it is particularly hard for the homeless to get food on the weekend.

Harris said the program started after first-grade teacher Maureen Smith of Fairway Elementary School in Wildwood visited a Park Hills, Kan., school with a similar program. The Rockwood effort began in her classroom, then launched throughout the district in January.

“We now have about a third of our homeless students taking part, and these students each are taking home about $20 to $25 worth of groceries each weekend,” Harris said. “Individuals getting the food are very thankful.”

The program may eventually expand to other students who are needy, but not homeless, Harris said. He believes students making the donations are learning a valuable lesson.

“Schools are teaching character education and citizenship, and part of that is to take care of fellow citizens,” Harris said.

Fairway Assistant Principal Christy Starnes said about 1,700 items were donated for the first week of the districtwide effort. Some people don’t understand that even in Rockwood the need exists, she said.

“Being homeless doesn’t only mean living on the streets, but it also can include families displaced and living with others,” Starnes said.

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