OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Westside Community Schools aims to reach students beyond just the classroom. Their new resource center housed at Westgate Elementary School can help with that.
"This is amazing, our mission is to support the whole child and if a child comes to school and they’re hungry or they feel bad about themselves because they have holes in their clothes or they’re cold because they don’t have a coat, that’s going to impact them in the classroom and how much they want to learn that day," said Brandi Petersen Paul, communications director for Westside Community Schools. "Because of all of this, if they’re fed, if they’re warm, if they feel supported and they come to school feeling good about themselves they’re going to do better."
The resource center houses a food pantry and a clothing closet all in one location. They've had these resources for years but they had been spread across the district. The new addition makes it easier for both families and volunteers.
"It’s here because it’s a pretty neutral location for families to visit and to come shop and it’s also anonymous because it’s far enough away and it’s on the back side of the elementary school so people can park in the back and can come in on the backside and aren’t seen by a lot of people," said Sarah Fehringer, a social worker at Westside High School.
The center is stocked through donations by families and community donors. Sometimes the kids find their own ways to give back, too. High school football players organized a food drive to help their fellow classmates.
"It really is really incredible to see the kids want to help other kids and the kids that are running the drives and doing all that, don’t understand the impact that they’re making and they don’t know the families that they’re helping but I always try to tell them, how big of a difference they’re making in these kids lives," Fehringer said.
While the pantry and closet have been a resource for families for years, the need has increased in 2020 due to the pandemic. Fehringer said that being able to help families with food and clothing, allows them to not have to worry about those payments and allows them to focus on other bills such as rent.
Petersen Paul says seeing this resource center come together has been a highlight of a difficult year.
"2020 has been such an awful year for so many people. This is a highlight of the good. There is so much good all around us and this demonstrates that people are really good at heart and when you have an idea and you have community support behind it and in our case the Westside Community Foundation, and an incredible family that is wiling to help us put this together, look at the amazing things that can come of that," she said.