WILKES-BARRE — In a school district with a $121 million annual budget, it’s a modest amount — $12,500 for five elementary schools serving some 4,000 students.
And it’s buying modest goods like lice treatment, soap, shampoos and polo shirts stocked away in closets of school nurse offices.
Yet the impact is expected to be enormous.
“Last year we learned that a child and three siblings missed ten days of school because they couldn’t afford lice medicine,” Bill Jones said at the public unveiling of the “Nurse’s Pantry” project launched jointly between the Wilkes-Barre Area School District and United Way of Wyoming Valley.
Jones, the president of the local United Way, said the money provided by that agency can have a big impact on school attendance for low income students. The idea is to provide common items that poorer families may simply lack yet need: Lice treatment medicine, soap, deodorant, hygiene items, and dress-code approved clothes.
“A child may have only one pair of pants or one shirt that gets ripped, and they stop coming to school, Jones said. “They don’t have clean clothes. They get embarrassed, they get bullied.”
Daniel J. Flood Elementary School nurse Maura Mattick agreed that the closet full of items she showed off would be a big help for many students in a school that, according to Principal Marlena Nockley, hits as high as 91 percent low-income enrollment.
District policy requires sending children with lice home until the condition is cleared, she noted, but parents often have trouble getting the medicine, delaying a child’s return. “Now I can call the parent and they can tell me what time they will come to pick up the child, and I can give them the medicine and the instructions at the same time.”
“We need clothes daily,” Nockley said, noting some parents “don’t have the equipment to do laundry at home.
Jones said the United Way opted to provide supplies to school nurses because “they know which kids are at high risk.”
“We are meeting the kids where where their needs are,” he added.
United Way is piloting the program in Wilkes-Barre Area, thanks to an increase in donations that meant there was enough money to launch it this year, Jones said. But he hopes to expand it.
“I’d love to see this in every school building in Wyoming Valley.”
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish