“I registered for tennis shoes and Converse and backpacks and winter coats."
Rickee Stewart. Image via KSL.
Many a bridezilla has agonized over whether to add a gas barbecue grill, pricey blender, or crystal-cut vase to her wedding registry — if the vase comes in a robin’s-egg blue box from Tiffany’s, all the better, right? But when it came time for high school teacher Rickee Stewart to decide between wedding gifts and her students, well, the kids mattered more than any Tiffany dream.
Instead of buying her gifts, Stewart, who ties the knot on Sept. 9, asked her friends and family to help her purchase necessities for homeless students at Copper Hills High in West Jordan, Utah.
“I registered for tennis shoes and Converse and backpacks and winter coats for the homeless kids at our school," Stewart told KSL, the NBC affiliate in nearby Salt Lake City.
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]Put yourself in the place of a 16 year old junior in high school living in a car.[/quote]
Stewart told KSL that there are about 110 homeless teens out of the roughly 2,400 students at Copper Hills. About one-fourth of students come from low-income homes, so Copper Hills already runs an on-site food pantry. Kids can stuff cans of beans or boxes of mac and cheese in their backpacks to take home, no questions asked.
"One of my students walked up very quietly and said, ‘So, my mom wants to know how I can actually get some of that food,’” Stewart said. "It's very real."
So Stewart turned to DonorsChoose.org, the platform founded in 2000 that has enabled the public to contribute money for teachers to purchase supplies for their public school classrooms. Stewart posted four different requests for shoes, backpacks, coats, and other supplies throughout the summer.
In one of her requests, the kind-hearted teacher summed up the plight of homeless children at Copper Hills.
“Put yourself in the place of a 16 year old junior in high school living in a car,” she wrote. “Where do you shower? Where do you wash your clothes? Where do you get your meals after school, on the weekends, or during spring break?”
It’s not just kids enrolled at Copper Hills who experience this kind of hardship. According to the U.S. Department of Education, there were 1.3 million homeless students attending public school during 2013-14, the most recent school year for which data is available.
These kids are at a “greater risk of being chronically absent than their non-homeless peers,” according to the department. After all, homeless students and their families might be living in a shelter or motel one night and sleeping at a friend’s or relative’s house the next. Research shows that this chronic absenteeism “is associated with lower academic achievement and higher dropout rates.”
[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]This is exactly what we wanted.[/quote]
As Stewart wrote on DonorsChoose.org, “A student cannot focus on my accounting lesson if they are worried about feeding their little sister or staying warm in the middle of a cold Utah winter.”
Along with her friends and family, strangers from across the nation have generously funded all four of her projects, including one that will provide 600 winter coats to impoverished kids across the entire school district. Stewart has also set up a recurring monthly donation page to support learning and help students in her classroom on an ongoing basis.
“This is exactly what we wanted," she told KSL. "My hope is that we get to not only have this amazing wedding and start our lives together but that we are able to put some warmth on all of those kids."