As a longtime board member of the PTA at Century Elementary and Middle schools in Park Rapids, Minn., Rhonda Lageson witnessed the typical highs and lows of a school community. But one thing she could not shake was seeing children who came to school hungry or without winter clothing.
Lageson, who for nearly a decade served in a variety of board positions, including president, says she had to do something about the kids who were so obviously struggling. She came up with a plan for a PTA winter gear collection a few weeks before Christmas in 2010. She crafted an email to people she knew around town, including friends from her book club and church group. “I poured my heart out with different stories of need,” she says.
She raised $3,000 in just a few days. Lageson used these donations to launch Helping Hands, which was set up as a PTA subgroup with its own designated fund to provide Century families with donations of clothing, food, and other necessities on an ongoing basis. Of the 1,200 students at the elementary and middle schools, about 60 percent qualify for low-cost or free lunch, and many others come close, Lageson says. The goal is to help any family that needs assistance.
Although she is no longer on the PTA board, Lageson still does the fundraising for Helping Hands and handles most of the collection and distribution of donations. Recently, she began to delegate jobs to PTA members who have wanted to pitch in.
For the past two years, Helping Hands has provided more than $12,000 worth of clothing, household items, and free or reduced-price services each year. Lageson is creative when it comes to helping families. She struck a deal with a beauty school to give kids free haircuts, and a dentist provides free toothbrushes and toothpaste. The local Lions Club helps get eyeglasses for kids.
Helping Hands uses a room at Century to store donations. At times, children visit to pick up items and are shocked to see so many things. “Kids ask, ‘Do you do this all by yourself?’” Lageson says, “and I say, ‘No. It’s from your community. Your community cares about you.’”
For more community service ideas, check out these resources:
How PTOs Help Families in Need
Planning a Community Service Project
PTO Community Service Ideas on Pinterest