ROCK ISLAND — Organizers say an idea to help Rock Island High School students with the basics, including toiletries and food, has now helped at least 250 students.
School social worker Amanda Puebla said the Rocky Resource Room began a year ago with an idea she and English Learners teacher Jessica Matherly had to help Rocky students secure necessities so the students would have fewer barriers to getting an education.
The “resource closet” has grown into a fully-stocked classroom.
“We just feel, overall, these basic things for our families, it takes some stressors off their plate,” Ms. Puebla said. “They can truly focus. They have what they need, so they can come every day and they can really just pay attention and focus on what they need to do in school and just enjoy being here with their friends.”
The Rocky Resource Room opened to students in need in December. Ms. Puebla said the room initially was available for students to “shop” for clothing and hygiene items once a week, with additional times on an as-needed basis.
One of its first successes, she said, was providing coats, hats and gloves to students this winter. Grant money and a donation of an “overflow” of coats helped outfit many students, she said.
Students can access the room every morning before school. Ms. Puebla says the timing works out well because many of the kids using the room, which is connected to the cafeteria, are already at the high school for breakfast.
The school district was approved for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Community Eligibility Provision in the 2015-2016 school year, meaning all district students can receive free breakfasts and lunches because of the percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced-cost meals.
The 2016-2017 Illinois Report Card, the most recent year available, classifies 60.4 percent of Rocky students as low income.
Ms. Puebla says students see the resource room door is open during breakfast and know they can pop in. She’s also made presentations to help students understand the concept and what’s available.
“So hopefully they feel more comfortable knowing this truly is for all of them and … it’s just kind of a safe place for them to go,” she said.
Before the resource room, she said, she and Ms. Matherly were providing shampoo and clothes to needy students.
“We were just getting it on our own, and we started thinking, what if we just did this bigger and made it for everybody?” Ms. Puebla said. “I don’t think either one of us anticipated how cool it was going to be to have this huge classroom, and it’s full.”
She said students come independently or were referred by teachers. Ms. Puebla keeps a sign-in book to confidentially track how many students use the room and what types of items are sought.
Once they arrive, students are brought into the room in small groups and given some space, she said. The idea is to let them browse in a confidential and comfortable space, she said.
The room has “an amazing amount of clothing,” she said — so much donated clothing that excess items have been donated to Family Resources in Moline, Christian Care in Rock Island and the Rock Island Township. All of the clothing is cleaned and organized for students to peruse.
“We go through a lot of shoes,” she said. “They need sneakers. It’s probably our biggest need at this point.”
Students also go through a lot of deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste and bars of soap, Ms. Puebla said. Students are encouraged to not only take what they need of the items but items for family members as well.
The Rocky Resource Room also assists families through a partnership with the River Bend Foodbank. Ms. Puebla said, since December, 12 families had come to the school every other Thursday for food distribution. Volunteers from St. John’s Lutheran help order, organize and distribute items such as fresh produce, milk, bread and meats.
Ms. Puebla said there also were about 15 regular student volunteers who help with distributing food, organizing clothing and other tasks. The students enjoy helping, she said, and it helps them understand the challenges experienced by some of their peers.
As summer approaches, Ms. Puebla said students using the room are being asked to stock up on razors, deodorant and other hygiene items for themselves and their families for use during the school break. The food distribution will continue as normal throughout the summer.
Ms. Puebla said the resource room had received several grants and individual donations, including a $1,000 PRIME grant from the Rock Island Education Foundation and a $1,000 grant from Theisen’s. Another $2,500 was raised through a DonorsChoose campaign, a crowdfunding website for public school classroom projects.
Members of the high school staff and the community have been very generous with monetary donations, Ms. Puebla said. The money is used to buy winter hats, socks, hygiene products, backpacks and school supplies.
“We’re trying to take care of the all-around everything, and we’re learning,” she said. “The kids tell us what they don’t have. Sometimes it’s stuff we hadn’t thought about, and then we make sure we have it.”
As examples, she cited school planners, P.E. clothing and bus tickets for students who otherwise would not have transportation to school.
She noted a recent post on the resource room’s Facebook page seeking prom donations allowed 14 girls to buy prom tickets and get dresses and shoes from Dillard’s.
“We come up with new ideas,” she said. “Jess (Matherly) and I are just kind of go-getters, and we’re going to make it happen — whatever we figure out they need.”