(Photo by Marilyn Kai Jewett)
Helping your neighbor in time of need is what it’s all about at the Taggart Elementary School.
That was evident at its book drive and resource fair on Saturday, April 17. The schoolyard at 4th and Porter was the center of activity as families came to partake of the free resources available to the community: Free book-bags, a mountain of food boxes, tables of feminine hygiene products, hand sanitizer gel and resource information.
And the books! Tables full of free books provided multicultural selections on various subjects and every genre for every age group — from toddlers to adults.
This is the second event of this type that Taggart has sponsored for the neighborhood, which has large Asian and Latinx immigrant communities that have been hit hard during the pandemic.
“We’ve been building up to this and creating better connections with the community and our parents knowing that everyone is having a difficult time at this moment,” said Principal Nelson Reyes. “We want to let them know that we’re still here and we’re still very much involved.”
Reyes said organizing the outreach was a team effort that included staff, individuals, organizations and Councilmember Kendra Brooks, State Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler and State Sen. Nikil Saval, working in partnership.
Caring for Friends, which provided the food boxes, is establishing a food pantry at Taggart next year, and No More Secrets has formed a partnership with the school nurse to provide feminine hygiene products.
Many outreach events distribute food. However, most people forget that the mind needs to be nourished as well.
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Not Shakeda Gaines. president of the Philadelphia Home and School Council, Gaines got involved when Brooks asked her to make sure the children had free books. On Saturday, she stood in front of the school urging passersby to stop, get a box of food — and some free books to go along with it.
“Mental, emotional and spiritual growth for our children is what we partner with other organizations on,” Gaines said. “Right now during COVID, they have not always had that stability. Being online all day can be destructive and you need outlets. Books can take you to a different space and a different land.”
The parents who attended were appreciative of effort.
“This is fantastic,” said Skott Skottland as he sorted through the books with a little one by his side. “It’s a great thing for the kids. It’s a great thing for the community and the neighborhood.”
Will outreach of this type continue after the pandemic?
“It’s expected now,” Reyes said. “It’s developed into a deeper bond between the community and the school.”
Vincent Schiavone, CEO of Caring for Friends, was there with a crew of volunteers. According to Schiavone, the small organization has distributed 5 million pounds of food to its community partners so far this year.
“It’s the community caring for the community,” he said. “It’s our job to help provide them with the food and they provide the friendship to help us support our communities.”
"It’s the community caring for the community."
Large nonprofits and corporations can learn a lot about mutual aid efforts from Reyes and his team at Taggart.
“Nonprofits should reach out to the Philadelphia public schools,” Reyes suggested. “Talk to the principal and provide them with ideas and suggestions. We started small and people heard about what we are doing and said they’d like to help.”
Schiavone went straight to the point. “What [nonprofits are] missing is — it’s not a job. It’s helping the people taking care of the people. It’s being out reaching the people where they are.”
“COVID taught us that there’s plenty of people that care,” he added. “My mother Rita, who started this organization, always said no one should be hungry and alone in a world of caring people.”-30-
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