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story.lead_photo.caption Laney Rhoads, senior at Springdale High School, hangs out in a cardboard box March 20, 2014, for the 2014 Springdale High School Homeless Vigil at the school courtyard in Springdale. - Photo by Anthony Reyes

FAYETTEVILLE -- Teachers and students across Benton and Washington counties are pitching in to meet the basic needs of community members who are homeless and hungry.

Plans include food and coat drives, volunteer events and fundraisers for charitable causes. The efforts help students see what needs exist and show them the impact of community service.

Tips for helping the homeless

• Consider asking agencies if they need the following to assist adults and children who are homeless: clean clothing, services and materials, household items, books and computers.

• Create and distribute kits with items such as cups, pots, pans, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes and cosmetics.

• Collect blankets, coats, hats, scarves, mittens and socks.

• Donate to or organize a cellphone drive for the homeless so they can contact their loved ones.

• Most unemployed homeless adults desperately want to work but need an employer to give them a chance.

• Support a homeless person or family moving out of a shelter or transitional housing program with a security deposit, assistance with household goods and babysitting.

• Raise money for shelters or organizations with services for those who are homeless.

• Alternatives to giving money to panhandlers include gift certificates to restaurants or granola bars, peanut butter crackers, sandwiches and fruit.

Source: National Coalition for the Homeless

Springdale High School students and teachers collected enough food to provide 3,000 meals to a total of 536 individuals, including students and their family members. The meals were intended to keep them from being hungry during the district's 10-day Thanksgiving break, said Michelle Tull-Brown, a teacher and principal intern at the high school.

Fayetteville High School student council members sold sweatshirts and sent letters to relatives, friends and businesses ahead of the annual Homeless Vigil set to begin at 5 p.m. Wednesday and end at 6 a.m. Dec. 1., said Michelle Fyfe, the student council sponsor.

"It's really cool to watch my kids mature in front of my eyes and realize the issue but also be a part of the solution," Fyfe said.

During the vigil, student council president Olivia Wales will be among the more than two dozen student council members spending the night in cardboard box shelters that they assemble with tape. This will be her third vigil. She knows to wear layers of clothing because temperatures can drop into the 30s overnight, she said.

"It's very cold," the senior said. "The cardboard does not provide much protection from the wind or cold."

Student council members use the event to focus attention on the roughly 175 students in the Fayetteville School District who don't have fixed, adequate and regular nighttime residences, Wales said.

On vigil night, students will accept cash donations and food items that will go to the district's Families in Transition program, which assists homeless students.

The students already have received donations of nearly $2,000 toward a $20,000 goal, Wales said.

Last year's homeless vigil raised $9,500 that benefited 44 families in the district, including providing some families with housing, Wales and Fyfe said.

"That money we raised really did help," Fyfe said. "Most [families] need a temporary shelter for a couple of months until they're back on their feet."

This fall, Tull-Brown conducted student surveys that included one on how to increase school attendance. She asked participants to choose an incentive for attending school, she said. About 50 percent of the students responded, and while the most popular incentive was the option to take semester exams early, about 20 percent chose having food baskets to take home to their families.

The results surprised Tull-Brown.

She said she was interested in what the students were doing with the food pantry.

A group of students in the International Baccalaureate Academy at Springdale High School this year began working to improve the campus food pantry that aids students who have no permanent places to call home, senior Carol Medina said.

Only 12 students applied for assistance from the food pantry in October, but senior Brittany Chue said she, Medina and Diana Lobaton thought a bigger need existed. So, students and teachers worked on a project to send food home for the Thanksgiving break, and many parents who picked up food baskets signed up for weekly food assistance.

The students anticipate that 150 to 200 people will shop at the food pantry by Dec. 2, but the students have collected only enough food for one week, Tull-Brown said.

The students overseeing the pantry -- Medina, Chue and Lobaton -- said they need a significant increase in giving to meet the need. The food pantry also needs a nonprofit partner, they said.

"It's really overwhelming to understand the amount of people who do need help," Chue said. "I really hope we can meet the needs of every student and family."

Students often want to help but sometimes aren't sure how, said Wayne Levering, a teacher and coach who is chairman of the Business Academy at Rogers Heritage High School. He is scheduling events to give students an outlet for community service, he said.

Levering said the Business Academy has emphasized community since the beginning of the school year, starting with the school community. Students raised $2,000 to provide four scholarships to graduating seniors in need. They also raised several thousand dollars to purchase five water-bottle-filling stations to place around the school.

Activities open to students in the Business Academy over the next month include students cooking dinner for Souls Harbor, a transitional living facility for men, Levering said. Students also will meet for a community leaf rake, and the school DECA group will collect crayons and coloring books for Arkansas Children's Hospital, he said.

"I believe in my heart of hearts that students actually want to do community service," Levering said. "If you show them opportunities are there around them all the time, they really reach out."

Metro on 11/24/2016

Print Headline: Youths pitch in to help needy in state's NW

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