Churches helping with donations to Capital School District families

The Rev. Turhan L. Potter Sr. of Whatcoat United Methodist Church delivers financial donations to Capital School District’s LaWanda Burgoyne, supervisor of student services. The church is one of several that recently supported the district in response to the pandemic. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — From difficulties to fund food and housing to gas, Capital School District is trying to connect students and families with resources donated by local churches.

“When COVID happened, we immediately had a couple of different people reach out and say, ‘What can we do?’” said LaWanda Burgoyne, supervisor of student services for the district. “At that point, I actually drafted up an email message and sent it out to the contacts that we had and encouraged them to send it out to anyone else who may be interested in supporting our neediest families and students at this time. And it sort of just snowballed from there.”

So far, support from local churches has accrued $7,665 for the district.

“It’s really been our own version of some good news. I think we are truly gratified to see that the community recognizes the role of the school district in supporting our students and families,” she said. “It’s been incredibly gratifying to see the community come together and recognize that although we’re all struggling right now, there are some for whom this is really a devastating time.”

When schools went remote in mid-March, the district began its meal delivery program, establishing spots throughout the district to deliver meals using its food trucks and buses.

“The feedback we got almost immediately from that was emails to our helpline that we had families who weren’t able to take advantage of that because they couldn’t walk several blocks with many small children in order to get the children to the meals,” she said. “We have just some really unique circumstances where we can’t provide door-to-door delivery; as much as we would like to, we don’t have the capacity for that.”

To fill that need, there are the financial donations, as well as churches working more one-on-one with families. For the latter, Ms. Burgoyne said the district has been able to put families in touch with churches and the churches can make sure the families’ needs are met.

For instance, she explained how a mother had just given birth and had several small children; the mother wasn’t able to make it to the meal locations and had additional needs, such as diapers and formula.

“We don’t have allocated funds for that, and that’s obviously a very complex situation,” she said. “We were able to put them in touch with one of the churches and they adopted them, made sure they got groceries there, but then also made sure that they were taking care of some of the social-emotional needs at the same time.”

Some churches have given specific items, like gift cards to Wawa for gas, or have made donations specifically earmarked for food. Ms. Burgoyne was in touch with one family who couldn’t get to a food pantry and was without transportation. She was able to use donations to purchase groceries through an online delivery service to have those groceries delivered to the family.

John Wesley AME Church donates to Capital School District. The church is one of several that has recently contributed funds or support for families in the district affected by the pandemic. (Submitted photo)

Many times, the district is finding out about those who have specific needs through counselors, principals or teachers. When schools first closed, Ms. Burgoyne said staff began reaching out to families to see what they needed, and connected them to food options and internet providers and helped get them necessary technology.

When school staff members reach out to her office at the district level, the district is able to meet needs directly, she said.

The district has, on average, about 300 homeless students, she added.

“Everything’s in flux right now and we don’t have our finger on the pulse as much as we would if students were inside of the building,” she said. “As we’re hearing that student home situations have changed — because teachers are in touch with them, they’re letting counselors know and the counselors are letting my homeless liaisons know — we’re making sure things are updated.”

The district does have federal funds allocated for homeless students, she added.

“But often the family need is beyond what that individual student needs,” she continued. “So, we’re able to use the gift cards to address the needs of the families in that moment, whatever their particular need might be.”

As staff in the district connect with families and learn what their needs are, the district works to link them with the resources available.

“We’re trying to be really good stewards with the donations that have been made, because we’re taking care of the needs we know of as they come in now, but we’re also trying to think about, so what happens next?” she said.

While food needs are pretty well addressed between districts throughout the state, the Food Bank and other entities, she said ood could become a larger concern as the state returns to business-as-usual and supports begin to be pulled away.

The pandemic has changed the landscape for many families — some children have gone to live with relatives because their parents are essential workers, or entire families have moved, she said.

“Once things return to normal, we do expect that it’s going to take a while for things to settle down and for the needs to sort of come back to what we have traditionally expected them to be,” she said.

With the pandemic affecting numerous aspects of day-to-day life, the Rev. Dr. Turhan L. Potter, Sr. of Whatcoat United Methodist Church said although the church is not meeting physically, he didn’t want to be idle.

The Rev. Potter that when he reached out to the congregation about supporting the school district, the members responded quickly.

“They always rise to the occasion,” he said.

The Rev. Makeeda Brooks noted that the work of John Wesley AME Church does not stay within the church.

“We are a church that focuses on the needs of the community,” she said. “We know the families in our community, we know the issues, we’re out on the forefront often.”

The Rev. Brooks said the church is active in education; they have a program where they “adopt” a first-year teacher and help fund any necessary supplies for their classroom.

John Wesley AME Church and Whatcoat United Methodist Church are just two of seven in the area that reached out to “adopt” families, give financial support and donate snacks.

“I just felt like it was so important, that as a church, we would reach out to the community to help those in need,” the Rev. Potter added. “We’re active in the community so we know some of the needs. And so it was just very important that we try to help in any way we can during this pandemic to assist families.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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