CLAY COUNTY, Fla. — As Thanksgiving Break begins in Clay County, the school district tells us 621 kids were identified as homeless.
An Orange Park High School teacher is collecting non-perishable food so kids don’t go hungry over the upcoming holiday breaks.
Jessica LeSage, a ninth and tenth grade English teacher at Orange Park High School, asked the school’s social worker how she can help students over the holidays.
She wrote on Facebook that her school has a significant population of homeless students, families and unaccompanied children.
“Seeing my students every day and hearing they’re not excited about the breaks coming up, not all of them but just a select few, and knowing why they’re not excited,” LeSage said.
She said that it inspired her to take action.
The goal is to help up to 45 students and their families.
LeSage is asking for non-perishable food donations to be dropped off at Elevate Fitness in Orange Park, LeSage’s gym, between now and Dec. 10.
After learning of the struggle some kids face, LeSage’s coach, Ray Carr said he wanted to jump in.
“This is great and just to be in that position where she’s helping those students, it’s a challenge for her to do this and getting over these roadblocks, it speaks volumes of her heart,” Carr said.
LeSage hopes to one day open this up to all social workers within the school district.
Social workers already offer resources at the school like OP Outfitters which reaches out to any student in need.
If they need clothing, toiletries, or school supplies they are available through the school social worker's office.
School social workers like Suzanne Church say those resources are important for children and families in need.
"If we have a family that needs food or clothing, they can come right here, they don't have to wait to be referred to an outside agency," Church said. "We are focusing a lot of our time on unaccompanied youth, which are mostly in our high school population, so programs like this are wonderful."
According to Church, there is 138 unaccompanied youth, of which 78 are high school seniors across the district.
That number of kids in need is why LeSage wants to bring awareness to the issue and call on the community to help dozens of children and their families.
“I just love these students, we have an amazing group of students, they are so deserving," LeSage said. "They come every day ready to learn and work and they’re excited to come here most of the time, we want them to be excited to go home. It would be a blessing to provide for the students in Clay County and show them they are loved, and we care about them."
LeSage says the donations will be housed at the gym before they are delivered to the Orange Park High School social worker who will give the bags directly to the students before Christmas break.
If you have questions about donating, you can contact Elevate Fitness here.
If you know a student who may be dealing with homelessness, Church urges them to speak with a school social worker.