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My Student in Need provides school supplies for under-privileged students

Butte is now one of 130 schools across Montana to use My Student in Need to supply local under-privileged students with everyday basics.

Founded in 2013, the confidential online nonprofit provides a list of approved items to students in need: school clothes, winter jackets, winter gloves, school supplies, bus transit passes, backpacks, sports equipment, some camp fees, personal hygiene supplies, and even lice shampoo if a parent is unable to afford it.

“Our teachers will be all over this,” said Jim O’Neill, curriculum director for the Butte school district.

He has already approved the no-cost partnership with My Student in Need. All nine Butte public schools are listed now online. No requests exist yet. School starts Tuesday, Sept. 6. However, The Montana Standard will run its first list of local requests on Tuesday, Sept. 13.

THE PROCESS Here’s the process:

A teacher posts the required need on the website, Student names are never used.

A donor sees a specific need listed on a specific school then inputs the user-friendly contact info on the website. Donors must contact My Student in Need directly.

The My Student in Need administrators contact the donor.

The donor chooses to send money directly to the school or the My Student in Need staff emails an electronic gift card to the teacher to share with the student.

The teacher then accompanies the student to the store to buy the selected item or buys it online.

The teacher then alerts the My Student In Need staff that the request has been fulfilled, then the post is taken down.

“Everything is confidential,” said Kim Wombolt, Great Falls, My Student in Need executive director. “We never know the student’s name.”

Students are encouraged to “pay it forward” by volunteering for a service project some time.

The nonprofit has the necessary software to provide a confidential, user-friendly website. Donors are not charged a processing fee online.

“We’re not asking for anything,” added Wombolt. “We’re actually giving the district a free resource.”

OTHER PROGRAMS The Butte school district already has an in-district Shoes for the Sole program to provide new shoes for needy students plus a weekend backpack program to take groceries home on weekends. Butte High School Honor Society students stuff the backpacks and make them discreetly available for students of all levels.

The My Student in Need Program has grown into 18 school districts statewide.

“Lots of people fall through the cracks and aren’t able to get the help that they need,” said Wombolt.

Schools in Missoula, Choteau, Belt, Vaughn and Missoula use the program to supply students with basic items. Newspapers in those communities run regular public service-type notices.

Even if a student — not a parent — needs a twin- or full-size bed, for example, the program helps. Other items allowed as donations: new underwear in the package, shoes, winter boots, hats, scarves, bicycles, musical instruments, towels, and bedding.

Excluded are parents’ needs, such as vehicle expenses, gas, insurance, driver’s license fees, vehicle repairs, and telephone fees.

“We have a lot of people with needs who don’t know how to help themselves,” said Wombolt. “Why wouldn’t any school want this?”

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My Student In Need Doubles In Size

My Student in Need is starting out the new school year with twice as many schools signed on for support compared to last year.

During the summer, My Student in Need added the Billings, Helena, Kalispell and Butte school districts to its online forum of anonymous needs requests.

My Student in Need was founded in 2013 as a project of My Neighbor in Need. It began in Great Falls and has now expanded to 18 school districts, totaling more than 130 schools in the program or working to join the program.

Teachers, counselors and other school administrators can log in to My Student in Need and submit requests for items that help eliminate barriers to a student’s learning and success. Some of the most popular requests are for winter coats, shoes and general clothing.

“No one thinks of a pair of shoes as a barrier to education,” Executive Director Kim Wombolt said. “But think about that student in the winter with holes in his shoes and cold feet. Simple, basic needs can be met and we can get rid of the barriers.”

When a teacher, counselor or administrator sees a student in need, they submit an anonymous request online to My Student in Need with a brief description of the age, grade and need of the anonymous student. Donors can select districts and individual schools to view the needs and can submit a request to fulfill the need.

My Student in Need usually disperses personal hygiene
My Student in Need usually disperses personal hygiene products in bulk to not single out individuals in need of products. (Photo: Photo courtesy of My Student in Need)
Of the 18 school districts partnered with My Student in Need, Billings, Great Falls and Missoula already have submitted a total of 26 needs requests for this school year. Great Falls accounts for 15 of these.

“We’ve fulfilled 1,500 needs in the last three years,” Wombolt said. “We’re averaging about 300 needs a year.”

Needs requests are often filled by monetary donations that are turned into gift cards. Teachers will often receive gift cards for general clothing items and either shop for their younger students or take their older students shopping.

Wombolt said last year Grammy-award winning trumpeter Arturo Sandoval donated a trumpet to a fifth-grader at Paxon Elementary School in Missoula after hearing word of a request through My Student in Need.

My Student in Need receives several requests for musical instrument rentals, Wombolt said.

My Student in Need hopes to add 200 more schools to its roster this year and have 300 schools by 2018. The nonprofit is in talks to expand nationally, but Wombolt said it is not quite ready yet.

Representatives from My Student in Need have been invited to speak in Florida at this year’s National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth conference about their program, its success and rapid growth.

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