**DIGITAL EXCLUSIVE** Expanded interview with Ross Davis, one of the school employees that helped start the Necessities Closet
BAXTER SPRINGS - As the holidays draw near, many folks find themselves reflecting upon the past year and the loved ones who helped make it fulfilling. The Christmas spirit evokes a sense of gratitude and over the past few years, faculty at Baxter Springs schools found themselves in a unique position to identify students who have needs that are not easily met.
"Four years ago the Baxter Middle School was added to the Baxter High School. This put kids in grades 7-12 under one roof," said Ross Davis, one of the school employees that helped start the Necessities Closet and works to maintain it.
Davis said the technology department would work with kids daily, as all kids in grades 7-12 have take home devices issued by the school(iPads 7-8, Laptops 9-12). They have also worked closely with the counselors on scheduling and with teachers daily, as they helped them with technology in their classroom.
"Staff at Baxter has always tried to help kids, but it was usually pockets of help by individual staff members," Davis said. "As we became more aware of the size of need among our kids, realized we had a centralized location, and worked closely with counselors we realized we were in the right place at the right time to help the kids get access to items that otherwise may be difficult.
"Fortunately, through the Federal Lunch program and area programs, kids had access to food. However, the day to day hygiene items, often expensive were sometimes tougher to acquire. We felt we were in a situation where with the help of staff members we could identify kids in needs, approach them (in a non-threatening manner)and see if there was a way we could help in this area. As kids grow up and mature, they tend to start needing more hygiene products than just soap, shampoo, and dental items."
Davis said the idea came from being in a position to see the pockets of help, the needs, and having a location where we could distribute these items.
"One day, Courtney Buck (who doesn’t like to be recognized) and I were sitting in the tech office, it happened to be a slow day, and we just said, let’s do it, let’s work with all those that are already working with kids to get organized and make a central repository of hygiene items available to the kids, primary those in grades 7-12 (same building as us) but also, through Nurse Sandy to kids in elementary schools, where she could identify the needs and work with parents to provide these items to the kids. You can send a 7th grade kid home with body wash, shampoo, deodorant, mouthwash, etc; however, it’s more challenging to do that with a 3rd grade kid for a variety of reasons."
Together the counselors and the technology team, with support of several teachers, came up with a list of things they felt kids would need. The initial focus did not include clothes. Davis said he then approached the school board in December of 2015, asking for permission to store the items at school, and reiterating that funding for all the items would come only form private donations.
"The school board was ecstatic about the idea and signed of on it with cheerful votes of approval," Davis said. "Our plan in January was to start fundraising, clearing out space, and working out logistics throughout the second semester to be able to start with our program for the 2015 school year. But fate (and when I say fate, I am sure that’s short for God’s will) had a different plan. The next week we were approached by the Kiwanis Club with a $5,000 donation to 'kick start' our program. Three days later we went shopping, and we had items in the hands of kids just days before the 2015 Christmas Break started.
Everything, and I mean everything aligned perfectly. Needed storage arrived, items we needed to purchase were in stock, staff quickly jumped in to help identify kids and work with kids in need, and products went out faster than we ever expected."
Davis said that by February they had several requests by staff for shoes.
"While we initially only had hygiene items, we’d established our tech office as a point of contact for many things kids may need," he said. "I am fortunate to work with co-workers that have big hearts for all kids. With such a large initial donation, we purchased shoes to match. Part of our hygiene items already had included socks, underwear, and bra’s, items you don’t usually find at a thrift store. That second semester of 2015 we realized that we were in the perfect situation to ask kids (who grow quickly) to donate items they outgrew (if they didn’t have younger siblings in waiting) so we could begin to provide clothes for kids."
In the Summer of 2016, they were able to clean out a store room to make room for more clothes items. davis said the donations continued to come pouring in.
"Soon we had clothes of about any size, our Necessities Closet requires form was updated to include clothes and through donations and purchase we have been able to fill every reasonable request that we have received," he said.
For the Spring 2016 semester, the Necessity Closet distributed $2,500 of hygiene items to kids.
"With half our donations spent, we realized that we may need some money to make it through the Fall of 2016, so we asked for hep through inter-office email," Davis said. "From that email we raised $2,800, much from community members. This allowed us money to get through the semester. With over $5,000 spent that first calendar year, realizing $1,500 was towards accumulating the initial stock of supplies, we estimated we would need for $4,000 of donations for the 2017 calendar year."
Davis said they did their first YouCaring fundraiser in December of 2017, and met their goal of $4,000.
"Through thrifty spending, and intermediate donations, we estimated that $2,500 would get us through 2018," Davis said. "Which bring us to our current YouCaring fundraising drive. Our current fundraising drive has raised $675, of our $2,500 goal. Typically, these drives do better early on then slow down. Our goal is to repost information on it once a week for a total of three weeks. For some people, this is also the end of a tax year and some last minute donations can help with deductions.
Their goal is to raise $2,500 by Jan. 15.
"There was a time when raising money was a source of anxiety, but every single time, things worked out, perfectly, in ways that I couldn’t begin to imagine," Davis said. "I have no doubt that this fundraiser will work out in the same manner."
The link for donating is: https://www.youcaring.com/usd508schoolstudents-1040647