Tucsonans find ways to help neighbors in need

2013-09-01T00:00:00Z 2013-09-03T07:33:07Z Tucsonans find ways to help neighbors in needSarah Garrecht Gassen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Imagine being a boy without a home. A place to sleep for the night, yes, but no real home. Being on the move so often his belongings are carried in a plastic bag.

Or being the third-grade girl who lives with her siblings and mother in a trailer so cramped and overrun with junk that clothing is thrown into piles outside.

Arizona Daily Star readers got to know some of these kids and the hardships they face in the paper’s Losing Ground project, published this summer in our news and editorial pages, that told the stories of how Tucson’s high poverty levels directly affect children.

Within Tucson city limits, one in three youngsters lives in a household that survives below the federal poverty line. Across Arizona it’s one in four, and nationwide it’s one in five.

Responses to the series ran the gamut. Some readers shared their dismay that so many Tucson kids are poor, but with a but-what-am-I-supposed-to-do-about-it resignation. Others were critical of the focus, saying there will always be poor people and what’s new about that?

But a heartening many took action. Readers were touched by learning how Walter Douglas Elementary School teachers, administrators and staff do everything in their power to provide a steady haven for their kids — children who often don’t know where they’re sleeping that night or if they’ll have anything to eat other than the cafeteria lunch.

The school was featured in Sarah Garrecht Gassen’s series on the Star’s editorial pages about how poverty affects kids and their education.

Principal Tamára McCallister, who leads the Douglas campus of about 700 students on Flowing Wells Road a few blocks north of Miracle Mile, said readers have reached out with offers of help.

Some have dropped off school supplies for students, and others have contributed clothing and books. All will be a great benefit to kids.

Several people have donated money to Douglas — at least $800 so far, much of it for classroom supplies, which will go a long way. The school’s Parent Teacher Organization is usually able to give each teacher $100 for supplies, and that must last the whole year.

Capilla Del Sol Christian Church held a drive gathering essentials such as dry erase markers, composition books, hand sanitizer, tissues and gift cards to Payless shoe stores for the kids. They also donated $260 for student field trips and food for parent training sessions.

About 400 Tucsonans so far have signed up to be volunteer reading coaches through the Reading Seed program and Literacy Connects. They will be trained and placed in elementary schools that are part of the program.

Reading Seed has received more than $12,000 in donations to help with the cost of training and running background checks on volunteers (necessary because they’ll be working in schools).

Readers contacted Star reporters saying they wanted to help specific people profiled in our stories. A half-dozen wanted to help a young woman pay the fee to get her birth certificate, which is necessary for school and employment.

Attorney and longtime Triangle Y Ranch Camp fundraiser Jeffrey Minker was inspired by Stephanie Innes’ story on John B. Wright Elementary School to arrange for 20 children to attend the camp next summer. The cost is $400 per camper.

Forty children of Wright families are getting their own beds thanks to a donation of new twin mattress sets with frames, covers and sheets from Sam Levitz Furniture.

Corporate store manager Eric Holton, who went out on the first deliveries last week, said it’s Levitz’s way of giving back to the community and to people who have been struggling. “We wanted to step up and help these kids get a better night’s sleep.”

Judy Nugent, who has lived in the Wright neighborhood since 1962 and who tutors at the area’s Martha Cooper library, headed to the school with a check.

Another woman donated 3 tons of sand for the playground at Wright Elementary.

The offers of help have come in dollars, in tangible things but also through relationships. Some have extended their hands in friendship to mentor students — in K-12 schools as well as at the University of Arizona.

The Jewish Community Relations Council, the public-affairs and social-action part of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, was prompted by the Star’s series to make poverty the topic of its first meeting to be held later this month.

We’ve heard from elected officials who said they’ve been moved to act locally and at the state level. People are talking about it, and that’s providing momentum.

Some readers said they had no idea how many children live in such tough circumstances, and how many problems some schools and neighborhoods face. They were moved to action by realizing so many need their help so close to home.

Others, like Lisa and Marlon Harmon, could relate to Tucsonans who are facing struggles they’ve faced in their own lives.

The Harmons own a janitorial-services company and were touched by the story of a father who had lost his own janitorial business and was having trouble staying afloat delivering pizzas. He had moved his family into a 1977 RV on Tucson’s south side.

“We’ve been there,” Lisa Harmon said, of their effort to help the man with a job. “We’ve experienced loss of business and been fortunate to have the restoration of business, too.

“Our biggest thing is because we’ve been there, when you come into the path of other people who are trying and are having trouble, you say, ‘How can we help them move forward?’ ”

And that’s the question: How can we — how can you — help someone in need move forward?

How we answer this question and the actions we take, and those we don’t, as a community and individuals, will shape Tucson for years to come.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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