Students from TMI took on a big challenge this year with the school’s Adopt a Family drive, increasing the number of families aided from seven to 42.
In three previous years the school has conducted a holiday charity drive, the goal was to supply the needs and wish lists of an entire household, including clothing, furnishings and big-ticket items such as bicycles, says Adopt a Family Parent Coordinator Donna Basse, who has volunteered with the project each year.
Earlier this year, she and Tracy Carter, TMI’s dean of academic advancement and faculty sponsor of TMI’s Interact community-service organization, were among a group from TMI that visited Mead Elementary School in the Northside Independent School District, a Title I school where 95 percent of students come from economically disadvantaged families, and 25 percent are recently arrived refugees.
The majority of Mead students live in Section 8 (low-income) housing, and some come from countries all over the world, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Tanzania. “Many of these families are going through hardships and are unable to purchase necessities their children may need for the school year,” says Principal Annette Lopez, “and most of them don’t know how to access services for them in the community.”
After meeting with Lopez and Mead social workers, the TMI group decided to broaden the scope of the school’s yearly aid project, while narrowing its focus. “The plan was for each (student) advisory group to adopt a family and provide them with essential living items,” says Carter. Working with the Mead staff, the TMI group chose to provide cleaning and paper products, toiletries, one toy for each child, food and gift cards families could use for clothing or other needs.
When the school’s 437 students attended regular advisory meetings – small groups at grade level – they were offered a choice of items to provide on a voluntary basis. Faculty and staff also had the opportunity to participate. Despite the large increase in the number of people helped, the TMI community responded, contributing 404 toothbrushes, 379 rolls of paper towels, 163 bottles of shampoo and conditioner, 189 gift cards and other presents, as well as many other household and personal care items.
“With so many more families, the gifts were more basic,” says senior Sofia Lopez-Franco, an Interact board member who was student director of the project. Because the requests were mainly for low-cost items, she says, TMI students and families “got creative,” shopping at warehouse stores or searching the Internet to find large sizes and bargain prices to provide “more of everything” for the recipients – a total of 151 children and 84 adults.
Students, faculty and parents gave up a Saturday to deliver the gifts to the families, accompanied by facilitators from Mead who could help bridge the language barrier. “Even when you don’t speak the language, (the recipients) are so grateful, you can see it,” says Lopez-Franco. “You can see the smiles.”
At Mead, “We were so amazed at what everyone (at TMI) put together for our students and their families,” says Lopez. On the Monday after the delivery, she adds, “It was the first thing the kids talked to me about as they got off the bus.”
Young students, says the principal, “feel much more confident, motivated and optimistic toward their learning when they are equipped with the right tools to help them put their best foot forward at school.”