April 25, 2024

LPS foundation seeks donations for depleted emergency funds

An emergency fund through the Foundation for Lincoln Public Schools for helping families in need is nearing depletion after the pandemic caused a drastic increase in use.

The Student Emergency Fund stands at a little less than $20,000, causing Lincoln Public Schools to limit the amount of families helped through the fund.

As a result, the foundation is asking the community for donations to help raise around $80,000 to replenish the reserve.

The fund is intended to provide emergency relief to families who may be struggling financially with things such as groceries and rent, or who are dealing with things like an unhealthy living situation or a death in the family, to ensure students have the basic needs to excel in school.

“Typically, the Foundation for LPS funds are used in emergency situations where the family just needs something to get them through that week until they can connect with the other services in the community that will give them that more stable support,” Foundation President Wendy Van said.

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Any family in the district can qualify for help, but families can only use the fund once a year, including during breaks. The foundation limits each family to around $200, which is up from the previous amount of $100 pre-pandemic.

To request help, families should contact their school social worker or call the school office when school is out of session.

Those wishing to donate to the Student Emergency Fund can visit foundationforlps.org.

In the past, the fund has typically had around $20,000 in it, which was more than enough for many years. From 1999 to 2019, the foundation only used about $9,000 each year to help families, according to Van.

But, in 2020, conditions changed.

“Then the pandemic hit,” she said. “And at that time, the needs skyrocketed.”

Since then, the demand has been extremely high as families continue to face post-pandemic realities such as inflation and low wages.

In the past couple of years, the foundation was able to raise thousands of private dollars and also got money from COVID relief funds and the American Rescue Plan, to match the increased need. Altogether, the fund had more than $300,000 in it, allowing the foundation to use around $120,000 a year.

The funds didn’t last long, though, and donations have recently dwindled. The need, however, has largely remained the same.

“Now that those funds have all been given out to needy families in the community, we’re at a point where the need is still there, but the availability of funds is just not as high,” Van said.

Before the pandemic, the foundation was able to help with a larger variety of things, like flat tires, personal hygiene items, replacing car batteries and more, but with such low funds, they’ve been much more limited.

“We haven’t been able to do those things. We are completely focused on making sure that that (a) family has a house, that a child can come to school with a full belly and not be scared about where they’re staying or where they’re living,” she said. “Our goal is to just make sure that kids come to school ready to learn.”

During the 2021-22 school year, the Student Emergency Fund helped more than 350 families. That number nearly doubled the next year, increasing to 695 families in 2022-23.

Around 60 percent of requests come from within Title I schools, Van said. Elliott Elementary — a Title I school — and Lincoln High School — not a Title I school — had the most requests last year, each with 48. Belmont Elementary, also a Title I school, was the source of 43 requests.

Last school year, rent was the most common request, with 225 families asking for help in that category. Just over 200 families requested funding for utilities and more than 160 asked for help with gas and groceries.

However, the fund can impact students and families in more ways than just helping financially, according to Andrea Phillips, coordinator for social workers at LPS.

A lack of basic needs at home can play a big role in a student’s mental health, too, she said.

“It can be traumatic for students to not have a roof over their head, or heat at night, warm water, food to eat,” Phillips said. “All of those things can be traumatic to students and that can really impact their mental health.”

Belmont Elementary Principal Kim Rosenthal agreed, also noting that if basic needs are not being met, it’s difficult for students to focus in class, or even make it to school everyday.

“Meeting basic needs is one of the main things that helps kids be able to be the best learner that they can be,” Rosenthal said. “It helps us to have kids who are in school. It helps us to have kids that aren’t stressed about what’s going on at home so that they can focus their attention on learning and being successful scholars.”

While LPS is limited on how many people can be helped with the emergency fund, Phillips said school social workers are still able to help those in need, even if it means referring people to community partners like Community Action.

Even so, the Student Emergency Fund is vital to the district, she said.

“It’s horribly, horribly important. We are so grateful to the foundation for having this fund and we’re so thankful to donors for their generous giving,” she said. “It really makes a huge difference.”

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