Denfeld News

April 5, 2012
Duluth News Tribune

Denfeld students help Hunters in crisis
By Steve Kuchera

The 50 care kits Denfeld National Honor Society members assembled Wednesday aren’t destined for a Third World country or for victims of a natural disaster. They’re for classmates struggling with poverty or family turmoil, who might be homeless, living at a shelter or couch-surfing.

“We always go through all the kits,” said Shane Erickson, who was a school social worker at Denfeld for 10 years before becoming its dean of students.

“Over 50 percent of our population is living in poverty,” he said. “In a school of our size, that’s around 650 kids. Living in poverty day in and day out is pretty tough.”

Districtwide, about 20 to 25 students at each high school are homeless at some point during the year, said Deb Wagner, who coordinates the district’s homeless student education program. In some cases, the student’s entire family is going through homelessness.“

Sometimes the kids in crisis are invisible,” Denfeld NHS adviser Michele Helbacka said. “We had a student in one of own classes who was in crisis. All of a sudden the students realized: We have homeless kids, kids in the crisis center, kids who are staying with their grandmother.”

Without going into detail, Denfeld senior and NHS chapter co-president Kayla Pederson related how chapter members recently helped someone in need.

“I was overwhelmed by how different their life is than mine,” she said. “It’s comforting that someone wants to help out and make your life a little easier. It makes me happy to see that we can help our community.”

The 60-member Denfeld NHS chapter worked for several weeks, asking local businesses for donations and raising money to buy shampoo and conditioner, razors, washcloths, soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste for the kits.“

Everyone had to get 10 items,” Denfeld senior and NHS member Pat Dowd said. “I feel great when I do it. I feel like I’m helping someone out and that’s what NHS is all about.”

After classes Wednesday, Dowd and about 20 other NHS members gathered in Helbacka’s room to separate and pack the items into one-gallon, resealable plastic bags. The assembled kits will go to the offices of Erickson, the school nurse and school social worker Hannah Pierre.“

In the last month alone I’ve had three students ask for hygiene items,” Pierre said.

Most of the demand is from students whose families are in transition, Pierre said. The students may be staying with relatives and don’t want to ask them to buy needed items they not might be able to afford themselves.

She appreciated the 20 kits NHS gave her Wednesday.

“It’s nice to meet the needs of students,” she said.

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