The former Eureka Elementary School at 442 W. Fourth St. – now the Rockwood Early Childhood Center – still is a place for learning, but its basement has been turned into a place for giving.
In November, Rockwood Gives Back officially opened the Giving Place in the school’s lower level to help anyone in the Rockwood School District who is in need.
Loralee Mondl, Rockwood Gives Back member and Board of Education president, said the idea for the program had been in the works for a while and the opportunity opened up when the elementary students moved to their new school in August 2019.
In addition to serving as a school for young children, Rockwood buses used in Eureka are parked at the site.
“It’s a great space because the Early Childhood (Center) is here, the bus drivers are right above us,” Mondl said.
The Giving Place stores donated clothes, personal care items, furniture and food in the basement until the items are distributed to Rockwood families in need, she said.
School board member Jaime Bayes, also a member of Rockwood Gives Back, said discussion started last spring about using the space to help the community.
“During the summer is when we ultimately came in and identified rooms that would come to us,” she said.
Bayes said a few families have already benefited from items collected at the center, including some twin beds that were distributed.
“A family that just reached out to us has been homeless for three years and just got an apartment for the first time. They literally need everything,” she said.
Currently, more donations are being collected and sorted. Going forward, most collection drives held at Rockwood schools will add to the stock at the Giving Place.
A wide variety of items are needed, Bayes said.
“Things that are really expensive for families who are in need are things like cleaning products, laundry detergent, shampoo, feminine products – those are all really big needs and really difficult for a family to get who are fighting,” she said.
Mondl said she hopes donations will grow as word of the Giving Place spreads. There is room to grow, she said.
“Well, we started with a bunch of our clothes,” she said.
Then, Mondl said, she gathered donations from her neighbors, and more donations started to flow in.
Although the space is located in Eureka, needs will be addressed districtwide, Mondl said.
She said Rockwood social workers refer families who might need assistance.
A catalog of inventory is underway, so all social workers can see what is available at the Giving Place, Mondl said.
“The whole idea is that when a social worker has a family or student who needs something, they can go online and see we have five medium shirts, and so many shorts or pants or whatever,” she said.
A board covered in blue hearts sits in the hallway at the Giving Place and a needed item is listed on each heart.
Bayes said she hopes community members will visit the space, take a heart, and then bring back the heart and the needed item.
She said she hopes to hold an open house for community members soon.
For information on how to donate, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About five years ago, Bayes was volunteering in a classroom when she noticed a student who was having an off day.
“So, after class, I talked to her teacher and said is there something that I can do to help with (this student)?” she said. “I could kind of sense that she was probably one of our kids who is classified as homeless and the teacher did confirm that.
“So, it just was tugging at me and I just hated how this little girl felt that day.”
Bayes found out the student’s parents were both working two jobs and the family was living in a hotel. She said she and friends collected money to help pay a month of rent for the family.
“That’s when it started,” Bayes said.
Bayes said that episode inspired the creation of the Rockwood Gives Back committee, which includes Maureen Smith, Mondl, Bayes, Terry Harris, Dan Steinbruegge and Cathy Orta.
Bayes said most schools had something similar to Rockwood Gives Back set up at each school, but the groups only helped students and families from that school. A districtwide effort was needed and volunteers stepped up to provide it.
“Our district is filled with so many amazing people who care so much,” Bayes said.