(MURFREESBORO) Providing food for 1,200 homeless students in Rutherford County Schools remains a daily passion for Jessica Johnson, the school system’s homeless education coordinator.
“Educating our future should be No. 1,” Johnson said. “If we can get homeless students to school, we can provide them the food that they need. Not earning a diploma is the greatest risk for homelessness.”
Johnson works for the Rutherford County Schools’ Academic Time Leads to Achieving Students (ATLAS) program for families in transition.
The program is geared for students from preschool through high school whose families double up and live with another family or live in cars, motels and campers. Some students’ parents are absent and live with other family members. Families must meet qualifications.
A majority of homeless students receive most of their nutrition at school. Students may not eat enough food on weekends, Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks or spring and fall breaks.
The ATLAS program provides food for children to take home on weekends and long school break at 27 schools. Other schools do their own food drivers and people sponsor families.
Sheriff’s School Resource Officer Matt Clagg of Stewarts Creek High School learned about a shortage of food for students when they are out of school.
He posted to his neighborhood page and personal Facebook page for help. About $2,675 cash was collected. Clagg’s family, SRO Jamie Murphy and school counselor Ashleigh Chokshi shopped at Sam’s. The donations amounted to more than 11,000 food items, more than 3,000 hygiene items and 25 jackets for ATLAS students.
Fellow SRO Sam Trubee at Stewartsboro Elementary School asked for donations on his personal Facebook page. Family members, co-workers and friends donated $1,200.
Advisors Trubee and Deputy Laura Kunce and the Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Cadets, used the donations to buy about 5,000 additional food items for ATLAS students.
SROs packaged and delivered the items to Johnson to distribute.
“The SROs did this on their own, completely out of the goodness of their hearts,” Johnson said. “They have blessed the students and the ATLAS Program with their kindness.”
Johnson said the donations will be a good start for the three-week winter break from school. Atlas receives donations from food banks, coats from churches and shoes from Soles for Souls.
“We always need food,” Johnson said. “Kids are just hungry.”
People can donate food at the Rutherford County Schools’ Central Office located at 2240 Southpark Drive in Murfreesboro. The homeless students need food that is easy to prepare. A list is located below.
“If it wasn’t for community help and love from the community, there’s no way we can do this,” Johnson said. “If we can get the homeless students to school and get them fed, that’s a big deal for me.”