Commentary: Thanks to all who support homeless families — and here’s how you can help

revelations giving
Revelations Yogurt’s food donation barrel.

The Edmonds Public Schools & Alumni Foundation (The Foundation) would like to thank the generous community and the many donors, like Revelations Yogurt and Cedarwood, who have provided support to the district’s homeless youth through LeAnne Brisbois, Edmonds School District (ESD) Homeless Liaison.

As an Edmonds resident with frozen yogurt-loving grandchildren, my path to LeAnne meandered through the doorway of Revelations Yogurt and Dessert Bar (Revelations) owned by advocate for needy families, Debbie Duvall.

You may have noticed the food barrel in the doorway of Revelations, which the yogurt and dessert bar sponsors jointly with the Edmonds Moms Facebook group. This colorful collection point serves as one path leading to LeAnne and her colleagues at the Edmonds School District, whose responsibility it is to identify Edmonds-area students in need of school lunch programs and ready-to-eat food; or clothing and shelter.

It takes a battalion of Edmonds-area residents concerned about the needs of homeless children; to battle hunger, homelessness, and address the clothing needs of Edmonds School District children. So Revelations and the “Edmonds Moms” are joined by private donors, community clubs, and faith-based organizations to provide resources for at-risk Edmonds students, and the Edmonds Public Schools & Alumni Foundation would appreciate their continued support through the combined Nourishing Network program.

LeAnne and school district administrators learn of in-need children through tips from registrars, counselors and teachers. After receiving the appropriate permission from parents, LeAnne begins coordinating resources gifted to the school district so that the needs of these students can be met.

LeAnne has worked as the school district’s Homeless Liaison for the past eight years. Facing challenges during her own childhood, she feels a particular empathy for the ESD students who, each morning, leave for school without breakfast or a packed lunch, and return home to meager prospects for dinner.

And, the need for food does not go on vacation just because school is out. Over the summer, efforts of the Edmonds School District will still focus on identifying resources and coordinating services – through its outreach efforts – for those children whose family situation is so precarious that going without food is a daily occurrence.

One of the ESD projects, the Summer Meals Program for Kids, managed by Barbara Lloyd, offers prepared meals for undernourished students from the lunchrooms of 12 Edmonds school sites. My Edmonds News has provided information about this program in a recent article here.

However, there are at least 33 critical-need ESD children who fall through even this safety net, according to LeAnne. Identified by school district registrars, counselors and teachers, these children may have as a “home-base” the family’s car, or a campsite, or a house in which the electricity has been turned off.

These Edmonds-area children have been provided food through the “Backpack Kids” program, managed by Cedarwood International (Ministries), a faith-based organization donor to the program, which relies on LeAnne to identify need.

“Backpack Kids” provides children with ready-to-eat, no cooking necessary food. “After all,” LeAnne asks, “what good is a box of pasta if there’s no stove?”

And this is where the Revelations’ Nourishing Network food barrel (and other food barrels located throughout the school district) come into play. Donations of ready-to-eat snack portion food seem to spike at food barrel collection points following social media shout-outs. And those social media shout-outs appear on the Edmonds Moms Facebook page, a group of over 4,000 area moms, who provide tips on motherhood, and “need alerts” to its members.

“Facebook is an amazing resource,” LeAnne states as she acknowledges Edmonds Moms. “Their dedication to maintaining the ‘Backpack Kids’ program is a blessing, and we can’t thank them enough.”

Another person who has been dedicated to the “Backpack Kids” program is Kathy Rickey, director of Cedarwood International, a faith-based organization, who explained to My Edmonds News, “Several years ago our ministry chose providing coats to needy children as one of its missions. A call went out across the United States to our ministries and soon coats, hats, and boots were arriving from all over.”

According to Kathy, based on this generosity, “the ministry thought we could do more!” Kathy, along with her husband, Kenneth, developed the concept of “Backpack Kids” and approached the Everett and Edmonds school districts, asking if the districts would be able to identify parents who might give permission to have resources provided to their children. Sherwood Elementary was chosen as the pilot school for the Edmonds “Backpack Kids” program, “but not because that school is the most impoverished – because there are at-risk children at every single school,” Kathy emphasizes.

The office of Homeless Liaison also relies on private donations and organizations’ fund raisers to provide the money that, LeAnne explains, “get families out of cars and into hotels.” She added: “A week in a clean, safe, base-grade Edmonds-area motel costs approximately $370 a week.” Last winter LeAnne identified, to private donors, three Edmonds families in critical need for housing.

Using donations, LeAnne was able to move these families off the streets and into motels while she worked with YMCA’s Pathways program to secure long-term housing for each family. “Although the school district doesn’t provide funds to in-need families, we are able to provide coordination of services and donations in an effort to provide students with a stable school-base,” she explains.

“The biggest challenge for any impoverished family is setting aside the deposits and pre-paid rent (first and last month) for an apartment,” she said. “One cannot imagine how hard it is to save up the necessary funds, even if the family is comprised of two minimum-wage earners. With private donations to programs such as this one the community becomes a partner in helping Edmonds’ homeless.”

LeAnne explains how misfortune might hit a family while describing an Edmonds School District single dad who is raising three school-age children. The father, facing critical health issues, lost his job. Paying mounting medical bills and keeping a roof over the children’s heads has become a struggle. Edmonds School District personnel signaled to LeAnne the family’s need. Although her program is not funded for direct intervention, through her many community contacts she is able to coordinate the appropriate service-providers to assist this family.

Describing another family in crisis, LeAnne tells of a single Edmonds mother who lived in her car with a school-aged daughter. Each night the mother would park her car in the parking lot of an Edmonds-area church. When the groundskeeper would arrive in the morning the little girl would run into the bathroom, wash up and get ready for school.

So the next time each of us passes a food barrel, let’s pitch in and help the efforts of The Foundation’s Nourishing Network program in partnership with Edmonds School District! Ready-to-eat foods, snack portions, individually wrapped plasticware are all critically needed as Edmonds area churches, community organizations, and donors collaborate with The Foundation and the Edmonds School District to identify and focus on the needs of Edmonds homeless children.

Want to assist? Contact LeAnne Brisbois at the Edmonds School District office at 425-431-1746. For more information about the Foundation’s Nourishing Network program, contact Deb Anderson of the Edmonds Public Schools & Alumni Foundation at 425-431-7260.

— By Emily Hill

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