St. Louis Public Schools hands out thanksgiving food for families without stable housing
At St. Louis Public Schools’ headquarters Friday, families walked through rows of tables loaded with food. They were there to pick up thanksgiving baskets filled with canned vegetables, celery, bread and grocery gift cards for more food.
The event was for the thousands of kids in the district who don’t have stable housing.
Among the parents who picked up a basket was Michelle Bennett. She was living in a shelter earlier this year and during that time her family was separated, but next week she and her four children will build thanksgiving traditions in a new home.
“Now that I have moved in my own home, because I haven't even been in that long, this right here will really help a lot because I just started working,” Bennett said. “Thank God we're all back together now.”
Bennett said she took advantage of similar resources from the district during her time in the shelter, including help with school supplies, uniforms and transportation for her two school-aged children.
“They helped me with a lot of good things,” she added.
The district has more than 5,000 students who qualify as homeless under a federal definition. That means the children lack fixed, stable and adequate nighttime residence. The law covers everything from living outside to couch surfing with relatives. Districts are required to offer services to make sure students’ education isn’t disrupted by their living situation, but it can be hard to get information out about what is available.
This event is one way to help families feel comfortable telling the district about their living situations and asking for help, according to Deidra Thomas-Murray, the students in transition coordinator and foster care liaison for the district.
“When our families come through, they're not coming through like they're walking a walk of shame,” Thomas-Murray said. “I often share my story. I came here homeless by way of Hurricane Katrina, and I've been here ever since. And so we establish rapport and relationships with our families so they're comfortable.”
The baskets were put together by staff in St. Louis Public Schools departments, who “adopt” families for the holidays. The effort is also supported by community partners and the St. Louis Public Schools Foundation. The district gave out more than 80 baskets Friday. Similar events are planned for the December holidays, including a coat drive.