Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Rebecca Starling hesitated a bit about being a JFP Jacksonian—she's not someone looking for the spotlight. Her deep-seated conviction to meeting the needs of Hurricane Katrina-displaced students attending Jackson Public Schools changed her mind.
As Partners in Education coordinator, Starling, 56, spends her time helping the community respond to the needs of JPS students and teachers in 59 schools. "When the job came open, my experience prepared me for it—it seemed like a natural fit for my skills," she said, referring to skills honed over 20 years as a JPS parent and volunteer.
Picking up a clipboard from her desk, Starling read names from her chart "JPS Storm Donors,"names of cities and states where help came from schools and businesses: South Bend, Manhattan, Annandale, Dallas, Sacramento, Georgia, South Carolina, Harmony, New Jersey and Alameda County Schools, to name a few. Jackson Prep students packed 700 backpacks donated by Buffalo Peak Outfitters with school supplies to match each grade-level's supply lists, then delivered them.
As donations poured in—notebooks, scissors, pens, pencils, glue, notebook paper, socks, underwear, uniform shirts and pants, books, water bottles, lunch boxes and 600 pairs of shoes from a store owner who grew up in hurricane-prone Florida, himself a displaced student at the age of 8—Starling faced her biggest challenge.
"We had no size info for these students, so we tried to stay stocked with different sizes. It was so disappointing if we didn't have the right sizes right then, but we're not a department store," Starling said.
Starling drove her station wagon to stores to pick up orders, then back to the Central Office where the uniforms were sorted and hung by size. All sorts of wonderful people came to sort donations. "One time we got 12 pallets of school supplies from Kroger, assorted school supplies," she said, grinning. At one point 1,188 students, mostly from Louisiana and Mississippi, had registered—in early November the number dropped to 770—all needing help.
Starling sat back in her chair and looked me right in the eye. "The thing that really scares me is that people's generosity is going to fade. A child's needs will not diminish; I hope that we will take this as a long-term project, not as a Band-aid. … I'm not afraid to ask for things as long as they're for someone else; I won't ask for myself," she said.