- May 1, 2012
The Jr. Beta Club at Belle Terre Elementary School has made history two years in a row, first by being the first Beta Club in Flagler County, and most recently by launching the first on-campus food pantry.
The club, led by teachers Anna Bongiovanni, Abbey Cooke and Natasha Walsh, held its first distribution last week, serving seven Belle Terre families.
“As teachers, we see first-hand the effects of homelessness,” said Bongiovanni. “No school supplies, tired, starving, their only meals they get are lunch and breakfast here at school. That’s really disheartening as a teacher.
“And then they are supposed to come in here, take the FCAT, and pass fifth grade, pass sixth grade with As and Bs. There’s a lot of pressure as a student.”
As of last week, there were 320 homeless students identified attending Flagler Schools. Belle Terre Elementary is home to 40. The district’s definition of homeless includes families who have been evicted from their homes and are living in a hotel or living with friends.
“I think the earlier we can make the students aware of homelessness the better,” said Dr. Pamela Jackson-Smith, homeless education liaison for Flagler Schools.
To preserve the families’ privacy, Jackson-Smith has been working the club’s advisers to identify students in need. From there, parents were notified of the new service and asked to sign up for a pickup time every two weeks, before and after school.
Beta Club members will collect and pack the bags, and advisers distribute the food.
“These fifth-graders are doing amazing things,” Cooke said. “We’re trying to make these kids see how rewarding it is to help people. Fifth- and sixth-graders can be kind of egocentric, so we are trying to take them outside themselves.”
The program received a $500 grant from the United Way Women’s Initiative of Flagler to kick off the first couple of weeks, but they are also asking the community and Belle Terre parents to participate by donating nonperishable, personal care and household items.
Donations may be sent in to homeroom teachers or dropped off at the front office. Monetary donations are also being accepted.
The group’s goal is to be registered with Second Harvest Food Bank by next year and to inspire other schools in the district to create their own food banks as well.
“Homelessness is a major issue, and it would be great if the community could come together,” Jackson-Smith said. “We don’t have a homeless shelter — we have Family Promise and the domestic violence shelter, but not everybody can qualify for those programs. We really need to come together and try to get a homeless shelter.”
If you know a homeless family with school-aged children, please contact Jackson-Smith at 437-7526.