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Care to Learn hits milestone of 3M needs met

Meeting basic needs is critical to success in school, officials say

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This fall, Care to Learn hit a milestone of meeting 3 million health, hunger and hygiene needs for children in Missouri schools.

That service milestone came 18 months after the nonprofit announced it had met 2 million needs, according to nonprofit officials, and 15 years after its founding in Springfield.

Having a support system for a child in poverty can make a big difference, said Krystal Simon, CEO of Care to learn. She’s seen that firsthand.

“A young girl shopped for pajamas and I asked her why she chose pajamas. She said they had pajama day at school, and she doesn’t have fun pajamas she can wear with her friends,” Simon recalled. “It was this beautiful reminder that just pajamas can make a difference.”

She said meeting a child’s basic needs allows them to feel like they fit in with their peers and feel excited and comfortable about going to school. That leads, Simon said, to their ability to focus in school and reach their full potential.

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, there’s a strong correlation between individuals who have earned a high school diploma and/or college degrees and successful careers. The most recent data from 2022 shows that persons aged 25 and over who never earned a high school diploma and/or college degree had the highest unemployment rate of 5.5%, with unemployment rates steadily decreasing as education increased. The survey finds that although experiences and job opportunities differ, each level of education completed may help develop the skills needed to qualify for higher-paying jobs and may increase the quantity or quality of job opportunities.

“If you don’t feel safe and cared for, or you’re tired because you don’t have a bed, all these things matter,” Simon said. “At the end of the day, we want these students to become successful contributors to society.”

She said health, hunger and hygiene needs met by the nonprofit can range from food or a doctor’s visit to clean clothes or a stick of deodorant. She said the needs are met anonymously, with the privacy of the child in mind.

This year, Simon said Care to Learn raised $3.4 million to fund students’ health, hunger and hygiene needs, sourcing funding from individual and corporate donors.

Care to Learn today partners with 42 school districts in Missouri, according to their website.

Ron Woodard, director for family support services for the Springfield Public Schools, said the district has partnered with Care to Learn since the nonprofit’s founding in 2008. He said health, hunger and hygiene needs can create barriers impacting students’ education.

“We have a number of kids in our community that suffer from food insecurity, or they may be in a situation where they don’t have adequate clothing, or they may need clothing cleaned,” Woodard said. “Care to Learn has a special place in our hearts because of the love and compassion that they show to the kids in our community.”

According to the 2022 U.S. Census Bureau data, Missouri has a 13.2% poverty rate and Springfield has a 20.3% rate. Springfield’s poverty rate currently sits higher than Saint Louis City’s rate of 20.2%, and Kansas City’s rate of 14.9%.

Woodard emphasized the importance of students feeling like they are in a place where they can be motivated and excited about learning.

“Kids want to come to a school; they want to be educated,” Woodard said. “But they want to feel good about being there. They want to feel that they’re equal with their peers.”

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