At a scholarship committee meeting earlier in the school year, a Great Neck teacher mentioned a student who was in need of sneakers – and people immediately wanted to help.
Now, after work with administrators in finding a space and soliciting donations, Saddle Rock Elementary School has transformed an empty storage space into a clothing pantry for impoverished children in the school district.
“Everybody feels that Great Neck, because it’s so affluent with the people, that the kids don’t need, that we’re in an area where there isn’t a need,” said Margareth Adams, an incoming co-president of the Saddle Rock Parent-Teacher Association, last Thursday. “In reality, there is.”
Julie Goldin, a social worker at Saddle Rock and E.M. Baker schools, said many of the students who live below the family poverty line have parents who work multiple jobs and may not even have a car.
But by establishing the clothing pantry, which gives students anonymity, Goldin said this removes a boundary for children and families to find weather-appropriate clothing.
“I feel very lucky that we do work in this district and we have the resources available to make this happen and we have community members that want to support [this],” Goldin said.
“There are a lot of things we cannot do, but there are a lot of things we can do,” added Wendy Murad, another social worker, “so making sure that a child who needs an article of clothing, whether it’s winter or it’s hot, that we can do.”
Parents and teachers from across the school district gave clothing, they said, as well as hours to fold shirts in bins that filled the pantry. Many of the donations also came from the Great Neck Rotary Club, according to the group’s president, Lida Epel, including 48 new jackets.
“We were surprised” by the level of need,” Epel said.
Saddle Rock Principal Luciana Bradley said around 35 students in Saddle Rock alone are part of the scholarship fund, which raises money to handle school expenses for children who are economically disadvantaged. This means they qualify for free lunches and opted to disclose their status to the committee.
Bradley also said the pantry is another example of how the school aims to “change the world” one child at a time and ensure all their needs are met.
“Our charge is not only to educate, but to make sure that the children feel a sense of belonging, that they feel safe and experience joy,” Bradley said. “And in order for those things to happen, they need to have the full package.”
Carey Ye, the other incoming co-president of the Saddle Rock PTA, said the new clothing pantry committee will be able to identify the needs of children.
And while the pantry is currently geared toward students in Saddle Rock, E.M. Baker, JFK Elementary School and North Middle School in the northern half of the district, Ye said this is the “first step” toward gradually expanding the pantry to help the whole school district.
“We will make a difference to our community and our children,” Ye said.
Teresa Prendergast, the superintendent of the Great Neck schools, said the pantry and the work going into it shows what’s great about the school district.
“It truly exemplifies what Great Neck has to offer,” Prendergast said.
The pantry is open to the school’s social work team upon request from a teacher, administrator, or parent. Anyone interested in donating articles of clothing can go to the donation center in the main lobby of Saddle Rock Elementary School.