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West Jordan Journal

Teachers who go to the extreme

Oct 06, 2017 12:05PM ● By Jet Burnham

Benefit concert lineup dazzles supporters of West Jordan Middle’s Gibbons’s Kids. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

Some amazing teachers have gone to the extreme to help students in need—from using their bridal registry to providing coats for students to entering a boxing ring to solicit canned goods.

“I think teachers naturally have a good heart,” said West Jordan Middle School Vice Principal Eric Price. “It’s not about the money; it’s about the kids.”

All eyes on the bride

One example is Copper Hills High School’s marketing teacher, Rickee Stewart, who was nationally recognized when she used her bridal registry to collect coats and shoes for the homeless students at her school. Her generous actions were featured in newspapers and on TV during the whirlwind weeks between the first day of school and her wedding in September. 

When Stewart had realized there were more than 100 homeless students at CHHS, she used social media to invite the community to donate through her bridal registry. CHHS Vice Principal Glen Varga said once Stewart’s first request was filled, the online donation site decided to promote her campaign, opening it to international exposure.

That’s when boxes of coats began arriving at the school. Varga said the 110 boxes of coats they’ve received take up a lot of space.

“We’ve got a good problem on our hands,” said Varga. “We’re running out of storage space. The storage room is packed full and we’re looking for other spaces.” As the weather turns colder, the coats will be distributed to students, the surplus being shared with other schools.

This isn’t the first time Stewart has caused an overflow in the school’s pantry. Varga said when Stewart started teaching at CHHS three years ago, she organized a food drive.

 “We got such an enormous response, we filled our own Principals Pantry and were able to donate hundreds of pounds to local food banks,” he said. “Since Rickee Stewart has been on campus, it’s been fully stocked.” 

Milonie Taylor, who runs the pantry at CHHS, is glad Stewart’s bridal registry story gained popularity with so many media outlets. 

“I’m hoping it has brought some positive needed attention to homelessness; it’s not just people living on a park bench eating out of a dumpster, it could be that kid sitting right next to in class,” said Taylor.

She hopes students take advantage of what the pantry can provide and won’t be embarrassed to ask for help.

“I’ve made our pantry look warm and inviting; it looks like a store, and they are welcome to pick up want they need,” said Taylor. The Pantry provides students with food, school supplies, personal hygiene items and clothing—even formal dresses for dances. 

CHHS students are fully involved in the pantry, collecting donations and organizing them on the shelves. The school’s Latino in Action Club recently sponsored a clothing drive, which gleaned hundreds of clothing donations. In Stewart’s marketing-based business class, she incorporates the pantry into the curriculum. Taylor said they discuss homelessness, encouraging students to consider how it would affect their lives. 

“Rickee will ask them to write down the difference between a want and a need,” said Taylor. “I think it’s pretty eye-opening to her students.”

Taking a punch for the pantry

Tyler Garcia, business teacher and football coach at Kearns High School, has likewise been passionate about stocking multiple school pantries. He agreed to compete in a boxing match at a local sports arena—if it benefited school pantries. 

Originally, he was giving his sports and entertainment marketing students some “real-world” experience helping market the Executive Fight Night. 

“It quickly turned into an opportunity to get food and money for the food banks at Kearns and Cyprus—if I took more of an active role in the event—so I spoke with the promoter and committed to the nine-week training to be ready to fight,” said Garcia.

Spectators at the July 29 event were asked to donate food with their admission, and Garcia was able to collect about 20 cases of food and close to $1000, which he divided between the Kearns Community Food Pantry and Cyprus’ Pirate Pantry.

Before the match he said, “I do not have any boxing experience, and yes, I am a bit crazy for doing this, but if it can raise food and awareness to help our students then I am willing to take the punch.”

To the delight of his students, Garcia was declared the winner over his opponent, who towered half a foot above him.

Will sing for food

Krista Gibbons runs the food pantry at West Jordan Middle School. She coordinated a series of fundraisers over the summer to stock the pantry for the school year.

Local artists such as The Backview Heights from Provo and ukulele player Abbey Hafen entertained audiences at the largest benefit concert held Aug. 23 at the Viridian Event Center. Local businesses committed to match contributions and donated items for the raffle such as Papa Murphy’s pizzas, passes for rock climbing at The Front, field time at Let’s Play Soccer and a helicopter ride.

But the big winners of the evening were the students who face hunger, immigration, financial and family problems.

 “If a kid comes to school hungry, they’re not going to learn,” said Gibbons. 

She said many teachers have snacks they make available for kids in need. One teacher keeps peanut butter and jelly and bread on hand for kids who don’t have a lunch. Others have a drawer of granola bars. But when the need is long term, they send them to Gibbons whose stash has grown from a shelf to her entire classroom closet. 

 Gibbons even provides backpacks for the students to fill up with food to take home to their families to ensure that they have something to eat over the weekend.

WJMS teacher Erika Rand said she used to assume kids who needed free lunch would get it, not realizing those from refugee families couldn’t qualify for the program. She said teachers are aware who the homeless students are, even when it isn’t obvious by their appearance.

 “Mostly you can tell by discipline and by how stressed out they are,” said Rand.

 She has been touched by students who generously share their lunch or slip money to friends so they can buy something to eat.

“They’re just kids but their needs are so much more,” said WJMS teacher Erika Rand. “We have some awesome teachers that really make them feel like family.”

Many teachers donate their time as well, staying after school to play soccer with kids who need something to do after school said Price. Some teachers become the support and encouragement the kids aren’t getting at home. He said parents do their best, but times get tough; his teachers do their best to help in any way they can.

“We tell our kids every day at school on the announcements, ‘We love you, we care about you, make it a great day,’” said Price. 

That sentiment is expressed through the many teachers who, through both simple and extreme actions, are taking care of their students. 

How you can help:  Copper Hills  Kearns and Cyprus  West Jordan Middle