MANATEE -- Harvest United Methodist Church of Lakewood Ranch donated a check for $40,660 to Samoset Elementary School Tuesday.
Each year, Harvest United Methodist selects an organization to receive its Christmas Eve offering.
"These donations are missional, going beyond the church and into the community," said church member and coordinator of the Samoset donation, Kim Dalglish.
This year, Harvest chose Samoset Elementary School as part of their growing relationship with the school.
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Pastor Steven Price and many members of the church spend time volunteering at Samoset reading to children, and church members have invested in Samoset through the Pack-a-Sack program, providing bags with supplies to make meals to go home with chronically hungry kids, ensuring they get adequate nutrition for the weekend. They also assemble meal bags to go home with about 90 of the school's neediest students for breaks.
Samoset is a Title I school, with over 90 percent of its students in the free and reduced lunch program.
"A lot of the students' families are living in poverty," said Assistant Principal Mike Kelley.
The donation will go toward providing basic needs that school funds do not pay for, such as backpacks and uniforms. It will also allow a fund for teachers and administration to pull from at their discretion to ensure students have life essentials that will help them perform better in school, such as clean socks and underwear, glasses, shoes that fit, pencils and bedding.
"When I was in school, I had what I needed, but we have kids who don't have what they need to make them feel comfortable," Kelley said.
Parts of the donation will go toward giving every child the opportunity to pick out and take home a book of their choice once per school year. Each of the 620 students will be allotted $10 to use for the annual Scholastics book fair.
"This could be their first opportunity to buy their own book," Dalglish said.
Price said it takes time and interest to reach out effectively
"We want kids to have a future with hope," Price said. "We want to spread the message that we care about them and that they matter."
A small part of the money will also be used to provide student incentives for good choices and good behavior.
Kelley said that the school works with its guidance counselors to give well-performing students "appreciation slips" that they may cash in for prizes as a motivating tool.
Kelley hopes this positive reward system will boost attendance and performance.
Both Kelley and Dalglish commented that a student may enjoy education more once their basic needs are met, and that is what Harvest is aiming to do.