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Wichita district officials, donors work to ease burdens of homeless students

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, August 14, 2013, at 7:20 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, June 5, 2014, at 11:13 a.m.

Poverty long ago became a heavy burden for public schools, from the first day of every school year.

On Wednesday, Wichita volunteers and educators picked up the burden again.

At midmorning, volunteers from churches in Wichita helped unload 2,600 new pairs of shoes from a truck sent by a nonprofit called Focus, America, which helps the homeless and working poor, school district officials said.

The shoes – from a children’s size 8 to a men’s size 14 – will go to homeless children in the district, said Cynthia Martinez, who coordinates help for homeless students. She identified and helped 2,294 homeless students last school year.

Focus, America plans to send another 2,600 shoes in November, she said.

“We’ll need them all,” Martinez said. “A lot of children won’t have to come to school now wearing flip-flops.

“We are appreciative of this and other donations we get for the children and youth.”

She said a Realtors association has donated 200 backpacks, another big need for homeless children. Her office still needs hygiene products and grooming products for African-Americans, she said. Donors can call her at 316-973-4670 or e-mail cmartinez@usd259.net.

Other donors are doing more, Martinez and other district officials said. She said she receives $300 every month from a 94-year-old Wichita donor to help the homeless. She’s been working with a student who is working on his Eagle Scout badge by collecting donated socks to go with the shoes. He wants to collect socks for every homeless student, she said.

The district has more than 50,000 students, 75 percent of whom are poor enough to qualify for free and reduced-fee school lunches, district officials said. District educators are worried not only about the high number of homeless students but also how the number is going up dramatically year after year. Last year’s number, 2,294, was 555 more than the previous year’s total, Martinez said.

Besides the homeless, there are many other students in need, district officials said. Wendy Johnson, a spokeswoman for the district, sent an e-mail on Wednesday outlining some needs and some of the work being done to meet them.

She said NetApp, a technology company, provided 508 filled backpacks to Gammon and Jackson elementary schools. Bombardier Learjet provided 225 backpacks and school supplies to McLean Elementary and Jardine Middle School. Wesley Medical Center employees are collecting supplies for Spaght Elementary, she said, while Pathway Church has adopted Cessna, L’Ouverture, Harry Street and Ortiz elementaries and Marshall Middle School.

Martinez said the donated shoes will be distributed to homeless students Sept. 9-13. Volunteers from St. George Orthodox Cathedral and St. Mary Orthodox Church will help distribute the shoes, she said.

Most of the children identified as homeless last year are from working families, Martinez said. Their parents used to have jobs; they used to have homes. They lost both, she said.

She and staff members talk to all the families involved. Some are children of women who endured domestic violence and are living in shelters.

Many more are from families that moved to Wichita searching for jobs. With no place to go, they go to motels or double up with friends, family or even strangers, Martinez has said.

Contributing: Suzanne Perez Tobias of The Eagle

Reach Roy Wenzl at 316-268-6219 or rwenzl@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @roywenzl.

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