INDEPENDENCE – Late August is back-to-school time for students in our local school district and across the state. For some parents and their school-age children, it means trips to the store for a new pair of shoes, some new clothes, school supplies, a lunch bag, and maybe even a new backpack.
However, not all families take part in this annual ritual. Some families struggle to buy staples such as food, clothing, soap, and many other things most of us take for granted.
For children from these families, Champ’s Closet and Champ’s Cupboard have stepped in to fulfill some of their needs.
Shalon Frye, guidance counselor at Independence Jr./Sr. High School, saw a need early in her career with the district and took it upon herself to fill some of the gaps in the lives of kids who needed help. As she got to know the students who frequented her office, Frye learned about their lives at school and at home. For some of these kids, food was in short supply in their daily lives.
So Frye started buying food – granola bars, fruit cups, and other healthy snacks – with her own money and kept them in her office for these students. Whether they needed someone to talk to or something to eat during the school day, they knew that they’d find what they needed in Frye’s office.
Fry also learned that personal items like toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, feminine hygiene products, razors, and other necessities were not readily available to these students, so she started purchasing and stocking them, too.
Frye doesn’t complain about the investment she was making, but it was considerable. Hundreds and hundreds, and hundreds of dollars. After doing this for a while, she made a passing comment to a friend about whether she could deduct these purchases on her taxes. The friend asked what she was doing. After hearing Frye’s story, the friend went to her church and explained the situation, and the congregation then took on the financing of Frye’s snack and personal item drawer. That “drawer” is now known as Champ’s Cupboard.
Frye works with people from a number of churches in the community to keep the cupboard stocked. People like Gina DeBoer, Kim Hanson, and Megan Rasmussen form what Frye calls her “board” to raise the funds and product donations needed to meet the needs of students.
In the cupboard/closet, donated school supplies are also available.
An offshoot of Champ’s Cupboard is Champ’s Closet. Frye collects clothing donations and, with the funds provided by the churches and other contributors who support this cause, goes on a shopping spree in the spring and again in the fall to buy clothes for children who need them. There’s even a section of the closet with formalwear and accessories for big events in the school year such as homecoming, the winter ball, and prom.
Local businesses contribute products and services for these formal events, too.
“Throughout the years, our local businesses have been extremely helpful in providing goods and services at low or no cost to our students who need assistance. Students have been given tux and shoe rentals from Eschen’s Clothing, corsages and boutonnieres from Bland’s Floral, and hair, makeup, and nail services from all of our local salons. We are extremely fortunate to have support from all of our local business owners,” Frye said.
Thanks to the efforts of Silver Cord and other student volunteers who put away any items collected, the closet and the cupboard are well-organized.
Yet another program that runs out of the counseling department is the Backpack Program, which meets the food needs of students over weekends and during extended school breaks such as the Christmas holiday. Volunteer Deb Blin fills sacks with donated items such as Easy Mac, cereal, pudding cups, fruit cups, granola bars, juice cups, milk, etc. – enough for each student in school for that particular family – and hangs them in the locker of that family’s youngest student on Fridays. That student then takes the bag home.
If you or your organization would like to contribute to Champ’s Closet, Champ’s Cupboard, or the Backpack Program, contact Shalon Frye at 332-0706 or firstname.lastname@example.org.