“What people do not realize is there are a lot of homeless families with children in San Pedro. At Richard Henry Dana Middle School, we have had ten new homeless families in the last month,” states Yolanda Aranda, Dana’s Healthy Start Navigator.

When Aranda learned one of the students at Dana was living on a bench in front of the local library with her mother, she jumped into action and started connecting them with services. Her job is to work with families at the school who are struggling financially. She provides connections to housing, counseling, food and donations. The student living on the bench was embarrassed by her dirty clothes and did not want to come to school. Aranda was able to give the student clothing, hygiene products, and shelter. After that, the girl was more comfortable attending school.

With over 70% of the students classified as low-income, Dana responded to the needs of their students by creating The Giving Room. It is an unmarked room at the school stocked with donations for the whole family. It includes: new socks and underwear, gently used clothing, school supplies, hygiene products, backpacks, and athletic shoes. Aranda ensures that donations are distributed in private, so nobody knows who is homeless or struggling to protect the privacy and dignity of the family. Contributions are provided by community members and non-profit groups.

“When students come to school, they do not want people to know that they are homeless or that their dad drinks too much. They want to fit in,” states Steve Gebhart, Principal at Dana Middle School. “We are expected to provide an education, but when a student is worried about not having food or a place to live, these needs have to be addressed as well,” continues Gebhart.

Students know where to go if they do not have a jacket, deodorant, or school supplies. “The Attendance Office also lets me know when a family is in crisis,” states Aranda. “The parents are often surprised and grateful to be able to have a few pairs of new socks, school clothes for the kids, and canned goods. Often she hears that families share socks or wear the same pair for days because they can not do laundry,” she states.

Aranda recalls a meaningful experience, saying, “I recently had a mom come in with her daughters, and they had no clothes for school. I gave them a gift card to Target that was donated, and the mom started to cry. She was so relieved that her children could now pick out clothes to wear to school.”

Dana shares surplus donations with San Pedro High School, Bandini, and Barton Hill, as often times siblings of Dana students also attend these schools. Other schools in the community send families to Dana in an effort to help get them what they need. Many of the families at the schools have not received any services up until this point and are unaware of where to go for help. Aranda not only provides donations, but she also works with the parents to teach them how to obtain services and housing on their own.

Donations are always appreciated and needed. Priority items include new and gently used clothing for the entire family, new or gently used athletic shoes for students, hygiene items, bath towels, canned goods, school supplies, new underwear, and backpacks. Gift cards to restaurants, grocery, and clothing stores are also useful. Aranda arranges an adopt-a-family every year for the holidays. She will be connecting families with donors by the end of November. For Thanksgiving, she hopes to create care packages for moms with financial constraints, offering them hygiene products like brushes, toothpaste, soap, and bath towels. With the focus on the children all the times, she feels like mothers deserve positive attention as well.

Donations can be dropped off at the Dana Counseling Office or at the Parent Center. For more information, contact Yolanda Aranda at yaranda@lausd.net or (310) 241-1117.

Dana is also looking for volunteers to assist in beautifying the campus. The PTO is grateful for any help with murals, stenciling, painting, gardening, and cleaning. Volunteers are also needed to pick-up and wash PE uniforms once a week for students who do not have access to laundry machines. If interested, please contact danams.pto@gmail. com or call Glori Sestich at the Parent Center at (310) 241-1100.

Jennifer Marquez can be reached at jennifertmarquez@yahoo.com or @iroamjen on Instagram.

photo of san pedro today author Jennifer Marquez

Jennifer Marquez

Jennifer Marquez can be reached at  jennifertmarquez@yahoo.com  and @jenntmqz on Twitter and Instagram.