Sometimes a simple T-shirt or the right pair of shoes can make the difference between fitting in or feeling left out in high school.
The Moms Who Care group at Limestone Community High School in Bartonville understand this and do their best to provide underprivileged kids with whatever they need, whether it’s clothes, toiletries or even snacks.
“Our hope is that by providing clean clothes and hygiene items and school supplies that ultimately the students will do better in school and do better in life,” said Amber Hopwood, who runs the all-volunteer program with Gayle Carr.
The group’s efforts are being recognized statewide as one of the recipients of a Governor’s Hometown Award. Administered through the Serve Illinois Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service, the awards program recognizes projects that have strong volunteer support, meet a need and make a definitive impact.
“This award is a way for us to say thank you to the community,” Hopwood said. “Our community has been phenomenal in embracing the Moms Who Care program, and they are the ones who deserve the award.”
The program at LCHS kicked off four years ago and is modeled after a Moms Who Care program that was started at East Peoria Community High School in 2009.
The program is currently available at 10 schools, including Dee-Mack High School in Mackinaw, Beverly Manor School in Washington, Parkview Middle School in Creve Coeur, Central Junior High School in East Peoria, Lincoln High School in Lincoln and Broadmoor and Edison junior high schools and Wilson Intermediate School in Pekin. Pekin Community High School has a similar program called the Dragon’s Closet.
After first touring the EPCHS Moms Who Care room, Carr and Hopwood were briefly concerned about how to gather all the items required by students in need.
“Their room was full of clothes and toiletries, and we thought: How on earth are we ever going to be able to provide this to our students?” Hopwood recalled. “What we found is that it’s kind of like “The Field of Dreams.” If you build it, they will come. We put it out there and asked people to help us, and the donations have rolled in ever since.”
LCHS students are referred by parents, teachers or counselors, or they can self-refer by talking to their school counselor.
“The only requirement is need,” Hopwood said.
There are currently about 100 students in the program. With more than 40 percent of the school’s 1,000 students receiving free or reduced lunch and breakfast, Hopwood believes more students could benefit from the program but said some may be hesitant to ask for the help for various reasons.
“We’ve had students who have been kicked out of their houses or have been emancipated, and we’re really all they have as far as clothes and school supplies and snacks,” she said.
A sophomore who’s been part of the Moms Who Care program for the past two years said the program helps put food on the table for him and his mom, who works three jobs. “It makes a difference in my life because I can come down here and get snacks and get some new clothes and a coat for the winter,” he said. “It helps just knowing that if I need something, they’re willing to try to get it for me.”
A senior who’s been on her own for a year said, “I really got emotional the first time I came in here because I was truly struggling. They’re really making a difference for families who are struggling or students like me who are financially independent.” On a recent visit to the Moms Who Care room, she picked up a winter coat, boots, sweaters, shampoo, soap and snacks
The room is set up like a boutique with the students “shopping” once a month for what they need. Snacks are provided through the Midwest Food Bank’s backpack program.
“They come in to shop and they get a smile, a friendly face, a compliment on what they’re wearing and a homemade cookie. Sometimes these are things they’re not getting at home,” Hopwood said.
One of the most popular items is the Limestone Rocket apparel. “What we’ve found is everybody wants to have a blue rocket T-shirt like all the other kids in class,” she noted.
“The majority of the kids are so incredibly thankful that it’s overwhelming to us,” Hopwood added. “The one piece of feedback that will always stick with me is a student who wrote us a thank you note that said, ‘Thank you for helping me feel normal.’ ”
Principal Jeri Look said she couldn’t even talk about the program in its first year without tearing up. “We just had no idea how many folks would take our students to heart,” she said. “Our students have been able to participate in many events and activities that they may not have otherwise have had the clothes for, like dances and even job interviews.”
Staffed primarily by moms and grandmothers, the group frequently posts a wish list on its Facebook page. With Christmas coming up, the moms are asking for $10 gift cards to restaurants, such as Taco Bell, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Pizza Hut and McDonald’s.
“That’s kind of a luxury for them, and many of these kids are students who would not receive a Christmas gift potentially otherwise, so we make sure they have $10 to a restaurant and a little something, such as Axe body spray for the boys or Bath & Body Works lotion for the girls,” Hopwood said.
Donations of new or gently used clothing and other items can be given at the school, though Hopwood cautioned that clothing should be teenage appropriate. Monetary donations are also appreciated. Checks made out to “Moms Who Care” can be mailed to Limestone Community High School at 4201 S. Airport Road, Bartonville, IL 61607.
—- ‘Moms Who Care’ hope serving immediate needs reap long-term benefit —-