YARMOUTH – Shannon Davis would like you to put yourself in the shoes of a high school student who’s struggling financially.
“Imagine coming to school every day in the same clothes,” she says. “Imagine the (school) breakfast program being the only meal you get during the day. Imagine not having school supplies, not even a pencil to write with, and trying your best to get through school. Or not having deodorant or the ability to wash your hair, things like that.”
Davis, a school counsellor at Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School, is talking about the YCMHS free store, a new initiative designed to help students in need by providing them with various items, including personal hygiene products, food and snacks, clothing and school supplies. As the name suggests, everything is given to needy students for free.
Davis notes this project is new to YCMHS, although the same sort of thing has been done elsewhere, including Maple Grove Education Centre, which just launched theirs recently, prior to Yarmouth.
Referring to the YCMHS free store, Davis says the community response has been great and they’re very grateful for all the support, whether it came as private donations or through churches or from businesses.
“We didn’t expect the outpouring of donations we received,” she says.
Food items that are available include juice boxes, cereal bars and Kraft Dinner.
“Easy things that they can take home and use,” Davis says.
The idea is to help those students who otherwise would find it hard to access things most people take for granted, because the reality is many students struggle financially, Davis says.
“There’s just not enough at home to make ends meet,” she says. “A lot of students are coming from single-parent families or they’re on their own because of conditions at home.”
And while students in need might be reluctant to use something like the free store, Davis says they can, by approaching herself or other staff, access the service confidentially, “no questions asked.”
“As word gets around the school, more and more students are getting the courage to step forward” and use the service.
There are no concerns that the service will be abused, she says.
“As counsellors and the administrative staff, we get to know who these kids are on a very personal level and we know the needs,” Davis says.
One challenge facing the free store at YCMHS is a lack of space. For now, the service is based in the administration area on the first floor. Ideally, for the longer term, Davis says, they would like to be able to have it in a part of the school that is more private.
At Maple Grove, where a free store was launched not long ago, teacher Trent Pinkney says they’re “still sorting things out, but it’s going quite well.”
He and Nicole LeBlanc, a teacher’s aide at Maple Grove, are heading up the free store there.
“Of course, when it first opened, we had some growing pains,” Pinkney says, “but it’s been well received and it’s going well.”
Like Davis, he says the service is needed, “especially when it comes to things like school supplies ... In August, September, everybody’s got school supplies on sale. This time of year, they’re more difficult to find and certainly more expensive, and this is the time of year that students are running short on paper and pencils. And yes, in a lot of families, there’s just not money there for that.”
Davis says she hopes the free store will help students focus on school and not have to worry about other things.
As simple as it sounds, she says, it would be nice for kids to “just feel normal when they go to school ... a wonderful feeling.”