ORANGE PARK – A high school teacher is hoping to feed 45 families in the area with food donated by the community.
Jessica Lasage, a ninth- and 10th-grade English teacher at Orange Park recently started collecting food for some of her students after hearing that some weren’t excited about the upcoming holiday breaks. While most Orange Park students would be going home to warmth and food, some of Lesage’s students would go through the holiday breaks with a lot less.
“(I started this after) seeing my students every day and hearing that they’re not excited about the breaks coming – not all of them but just a select few – and knowing why they’re not excited about the breaks,” Lasage said.
Lesage got the idea after her gym, Elevate Fitness in Orange Park, which recently held a homeless outreach day downtown. She spoke with those at the gym that put that on and told them about Orange Park’s homeless population. Homeless within the context of the school district’s definition can mean a number of things, including an actual lack of shelter, but it can be used to describe a student who isn’t living in a regular or fixed shelter.
The Florida Department of Education states that children who lack a fixed, regular or adequate nighttime residence are considered homeless. The Clay County School District recognizes 621 students as homeless.
Lesage saw an opportunity to help the homeless at Orange Park and that’s what prompted her to begin the drive. She spoke with the school’s social worker, Susanne Hall, to determine what those students needed over the holidays. Hall’s answer was food.
“I put a post on Facebook and it just rolled from there,” Lesage said. “I think it would be neat to, if we get enough, not only give back to our students but open it up to other social workers in the schools.
“How amazing would that be? It would be such a blessing to provide for all of the students that need it in Clay County and show them that they are loved and that they are supported.”
Lesage said the community’s reaction and willingness to donate food and other items like toiletries and clothes has been overwhelming. The drive shows the students that they’re cared for and it also brings awareness to the homelessness of some of the students, she said.
Hall said the community is an important asset in keeping the Orange Park Outfitters closet at the school stocked with supplies for families in need. Local organizations like the Rotary Club consistently donate much-needed items like toilet paper and other goods and it keeps the closet open.
Hall said no student should ever feel embarrassed about asking for help. Every Clay County school has a social worker like Hall and it’s that person’s job to get them the help they need.
“All they have to do is ask and we’re on it,” Hall said.
As Thanksgiving quickly approaches, and with Christmas coming soon after, Lesage hopes to get food, clothing, toiletries and other necessities to as many families as possible.
“I love these students,” Lesage said. “They’re so deserving. It’s heartwarming to give back to the students that give so much to us.
“They’re excited to be here and we want them excited to leave here too. This drive will help make that happen.”