Providence Heights Alpha School helping homeless |

Providence Heights Alpha School helping homeless

Students at Providence Heights Alpha School in the North Hills are preparing for the holidays by providing for the local homeless.

Students of the private Catholic school make care packages and blankets for the homeless, which they will present to North Hills Community Outreach in Allison Park on the last day before winter break as part of their “Baby Jesus Birthday Celebration,” said Doug Beacham, an English teacher at the school who is helping to coordinate the program.

A charitable act like this is a focus for the all-day celebration Dec. 21, planned and coordinated annually by the eighth-grade class, he said. Last year, they held a food drive for the NHCO.

The whole school takes part in it, using an online sign-up website to ensure all donation items are covered.

Beacham said someone will come in that day from the NHCO to receive the donation, piled high on carts, most likely accompanied by Santa himself.

The students make kits with items that aren’t regularly received by the NHCO, but needed, such as Band-Aids, nail clippers, socks, lip balm and placed in easily transportable plastic containers.

“The students pack them with love and care. It’s very clear that the project comes from the heart. For someone who is struggling to survive from day-to-day, these little care packages mean that people do care,” said Jennifer Kissel of the NHCO.

Students also handmake the blankets, tying two pieces of fleece fabric together to make a heavy-duty, warm blanket, Beacham said.

Beacham said this program relates to this year’s school theme of “kindness.” And with the eighth-graders leading it, it gives a good example for the younger students.

“Little ones look up to them to be a good example. They embrace their leadership,” Beacham said.

The program also helps with planning skills and learning how to work in groups, as they split up to take charge of different elements of the day’s event, he said.

The entire school and the parents are very dedicated to the program, especially when they recognize how fortunate they are, Beacham said.

“There’s never a problem with enthusiasm and support,” he said.

Kissel said there’s a difference between city and suburban homeless. Those in the city might be recognized sleeping in tents or on cardboard under a bridge.

But suburban homelessness is “hidden,” she said. People might be living in their cars, a storage unit or a shed. They could be moving in with family or friends for a while and then going to the next one. Suburban homeless can be any gender or age. NHCO has served people in all of these situations, she said.

Kissel said about 100 or more people each year identify as “homeless” at NHCO, meaning they report that they do not have a permanent address. However, another 150 to 200 don’t call themselves homeless, but they really are because they don’t have an address and are sleeping on friends’ couches, she said.

“Some won’t say they are homeless because they’re afraid that it would jeopardize custody of their children, or they could lose their job or are running from domestic violence. And those 250 to 300 are just the people that come to NHCO,” Kissel said.

She said becoming homeless is quite easy. A financially stressed family can lose their home fast: “It spirals very, very quickly.”

Kissel said this project is ideal because they can pair what the school donates with items from our food pantry.

“Our approach is holistic — we give people not just items, but ideas, support, direction, outside resources and access to other NHCO programs, so they can improve their situation,” she said.

Natalie Beneviat is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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