United Way supplying PPE to local schools in light of coronavirus

United Way supplying PPE to local schools in light of coronavirus

By Cory Smith | on August 19, 2020

United Way Montcalm-Ionia Counties Board member Ben Wood, left, and United Way Program Manager Haley McLean, work together to unload 6,000 pounds of hand sanitizer in Belding. Thanks to funds donated by the Ionia County Health Department, the will be distributed to teachers every school in Ionia County through United Way’s Sponsor a Classroom program, which has placed a new focus on personal protection equipment this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. — Submitted photo

BELDING — As teachers, principals and school administrators scramble to secure personal protection equipment (PPE) to better protect themselves and students from the coronavirus, one local organization is stepping up to help provide additional aid.

In any non-pandemic year, United Way Montcalm-Ionia would be utilizing its Sponsor a Classroom program to supply teachers with standard items for their classroom — pencils, books, markers, rulers, tape, storage bins and more.

But this year, with schools working to take every precaution possible to bring students back into the classroom safely, the list of items needed by teachers has grown significantly. It now includes face masks, hand sanitizer, plastic barriers and whatever else teachers can think of to help remind and encourage students to social distance in the setting of a classroom.

“Due to the pandemic, the demands on the schools are a bit different this year than years past,” United Way Montcalm-Ionia Executive Director Terri Legg said. “They are in need of things like hand sanitizer and masks to be able to help keep their children and teachers as safe as possible.”

According to Legg, the Sponsor a Classroom program began as an initiative to help kindergarten through third-grade teachers purchase supplies. When the program began, nearly 60% of early elementary teachers were teachers with less than five years of tenure in their current positions.

“We know that a lot of what fills a classroom is provided by the teachers out of their own means and kindness,” Legg said. “We wanted to help with the burden of providing supplies. As a result, the Sponsor a Classroom program began.”

Legg said last year United Way was able to sponsor 263 classrooms thanks to donations from multiple communities within Ionia and Montcalm counties.

In Ionia, a teacher purchased bouncy saucers for desk chairs, having found that by having them and allowing children to fidget, the students began to improve their reading scores.

At St. Charles Catholic School in Greenville, several of the teachers went together to purchase a reading curriculum for their students.

At Faith Christian, a teacher was able to purchase interactive learning games and books for her activity zones.

And in both Vestaburg and Portland, teachers reported that they purchased extra food for their snack cabinets.

“All of these things are items that teachers would normally purchase with their own money,” Legg said.

Now, amid the pandemic, Legg said the Sponsor a Classroom program is as important as ever.

“In our region nearly 50% of our families struggle to make ends meet and that was prior to the pandemic,” she said. “United Way has been on the front lines since the beginning of COVID-19. We have heard from parents, teachers and been in constant communication with our schools.”

Legg said based on feedback from superintendents, United Way has made a few changes to its program.

“First, we opened the program up to the entire school and not just K-3rd grade,” she said. “We also wanted to focus on how best to keep both our families and teachers safe. We can best do that by providing personal protective equipment and supplies to our schools. We understand that not all of our schools are starting with in-person classes this year, but when they do go back into the classrooms, we want the schools to be as ready as possible to help give our children the best learning experience.”

Legg is hopeful donations can be made to the following school districts: Lakewood, Portland, Portland St. Patrick, Pewamo-Westphalia, Ionia, St. Peter and Paul, Belding, Greenville, St. Charles, Flat River Academy, Faith Christian, Central Montcalm, Carson City-Crystal, Montabella, Vestaburg, Lakeview, Tri-County, Vestaburg, all three one-room schools in Ionia County including Haynes, Coon, and North LaValley schools, along with both the Montcalm and Ionia area intermediate school districts.

To kick things off, Legg said United Way received a generous donation from the Ionia County Health Department (ICHD) to cover the cost of hand sanitizer for all of the Ionia County public schools.

“ICHD is proud to partner with United Way Montcalm-Ionia Counties to provide needed resources to local public schools,” Health Officer/Director of Environmental Health Ken Bowen said. “We are all committed to doing everything we can to make this upcoming school year both safe and successful.”

Additionally, Legg said United Way partnered with One-Ethanol of Lowell to purchase bulk hand sanitizer at a discounted rate.

Now one week into the Sponsor a Classroom’s three-week program, Legg said $10,000 of a $30,000 goal has been raised.

“I can assure you the price of the supplies needed by our schools to keep our children safe is substantial,” Legg said. “Sponsor a Classroom is meant to ease that burden. Our schools need all of the help we can give them.”

To donate to Sponsor A Classroom online, visit liveunitedm-i.org/2020-sponsor-classroom or mail a check to United Way, 302 S. Bridge St., Suite 1, Belding, MI, 48809.

“We kicked off our Sponsor a Classroom program with a pop can drive last week,” Legg said. “While we have not fully returned all the cans yet, we are pretty sure we collected close to $1,000 in returnable cans and bottles. We also put out a call to action as we are in need of youth-sized masks. If anyone is willing to make them, we are collecting them at our United Way office.

The United Way office is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.