“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” Matthew 25:35
October is fundraising month for the Loch Raven Network. A time when the entire community surrounding and including St. Thomas’ reaches out to support homeless students and those living in poverty at Loch Raven High School.
I thought this might be a good time to reflect on the history of the Loch Raven Network, its purpose, and St. Thomas’ role in the Network. Some of this information may be new to you, for others just a reminder.
The Loch Raven Network of Baltimore County, Inc. serves students in need at Loch Raven High School through the provision of food, clothing, educational supplies and other critical items. The Network partners with social workers and other school staff to assist homeless students and others in need. A homeless student is identified as one whose living situation is unstable, i.e. living in a hotel or shelter, or couch surfing.
The level of poverty in the Baltimore County Public schools is staggering! In 2016-2017, over 50,000 students qualified for Free and Reduced Price Meals, 45% of all students in the school system. 90 schools in the system have poverty rates over 50% and 107 schools in the system have poverty rates over 40%.
The Loch Raven Network grew from a holiday project begun by Laurie Taylor-Mitchell in December of 2015. An e-mail request for 4 volunteers to help 5 students and families, either homeless or in dire need, led to an outpouring of community support, which in 17 days generated 128 volunteers and gifts and donations worth thousands of dollars.
Laurie Taylor-Mitchell then began to develop the Loch Raven Network in order to provide a structure to partner with the school to meet the needs of the nearly 300 students living in poverty and 24 homeless students at Loch Raven High.
About 18 months ago, Laurie met with Rev. Loree+ who offered our Fellowship Hall for a fundraiser. It was a time when the Blue Horizon Team was asking how could we connect with the community surrounding St. Thomas’. This seemed like an ideal partnership.
A follow up meeting was scheduled with Diane Flayhart (Chair of the Ministry and Mission Team) and Jan Bahner (Sr. Warden). The Network had secured a space at the high school for a food pantry but needed shelving and bins to get it started. It was decided that St. Thomas’ would provide the resources for the shelving and bins from our Outreach Fund, about $300.
The Room of Support became a reality in the spring of 2016, focusing initially on food and clothing, until we understood just how much these students didn’t have. At one point a student and their family had been moved out of a shelter to an empty apartment. When asked if they needed bedding, their reply was that they had no beds. Within 3 days, the volunteers of the Network provided air mattresses and bedding to this family. With a bed to sleep in, the student was able to sleep and stay awake in school.
St. Thomas’ began a back to school backpack program in 2016 for homeless students coming to Loch Raven High for the first time. The first year, we provided 20 backpacks. The second year, we provided 25. However the donations were not as generous this past year and additional donors had to be sought to achieve our goal.
Once the community became aware of the tremendous need, the Loch Raven Network has given them a path to support students and their families. St. Thomas’ was there from the beginning! Without our initial investment, the Network would not have been able to respond as quickly to the students’ needs.
The Network is growing. Volunteers from the Loch Raven Network have been busy assisting Parkville High School volunteers to create a Parkville Pantry and Network. With 900 students living in poverty, their need is greater than Loch Raven’s. The Parkville community has responded. Members of St. Thomas’ are also volunteering there.
The Loch Raven Network is now working to rename its tax-exempt non-profit organization to the Student Support Network, Inc. This will allow other schools and their communities to adopt the model created at Loch Raven and assist students in poverty at the local level without having to create their own non-profit organization.
Poverty is far more pervasive than we think as we drive through Baltimore County.
We are fortunate here at St. Thomas’. While many of us are on fixed incomes, we’re not worrying about where our next meal is coming from or how to buy soap to cleanse our bodies or clothes.
Helping students stay in school and support their dreams of graduating and becoming contributing members of society benefits us all. Yes, it might be a long-term goal but the short term impact of helping students get to school (alarm clocks), stay awake in school (often nutrition related), and helping them join in “normal” high school activities (APT testing, graduating in a gown) is so necessary.
Checkout the Network’s new website for more information or to make a donation: www.lochravennetwork.org.
This issue of the impact of poverty on students has become of great interest to me. It might not be to you. This I understand. However, our church isn’t this building we meet in every week. It is the people who reach out and care for those in need and share the Good News. And we have so much to give and share!
Please see a separate article in this issue of the Good News about St. Thomas’ collection for the Room of Support in October. If each one of us donated just 1 or 2 items, we’d make a huge impact on the Room of Support. A dollar or two if you can’t or don’t like to shop will enable others of us to shop for you.
And then consider joining us for the Loch Raven Network’s Annual Fundraiser on Wednesday, October 11th from 7-8:15 to learn more about the work of the Network, and enjoy a raffle, a silent auction, good food, and fellowship. Tickets in advance (preferred) or at the door are $20 or a gift card of any amount for Giant or Safeway. For tickets in advance, please contact Jan Bahner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 443-564-9464.
We can each make a difference in the lives of these students!
Jan Bahner, Senior Warden