SALVATION ARMY LT. KIRSTEN CHILDS assists two girls with their back-to-school shopping on Wednesday at Target in Topsham. The Salvation Army teamed up with Target to help kids purchase needed supplies for the upcoming year. CHRIS QUATTRUCCI / THE TIMES RECORD

SALVATION ARMY LT. KIRSTEN CHILDS assists two girls with their back-to-school shopping on Wednesday at Target in Topsham. The Salvation Army teamed up with Target to help kids purchase needed supplies for the upcoming year. CHRIS QUATTRUCCI / THE TIMES RECORD

TOPSHAM

Students at risk of homelessness got a fresh start for the school year this week in Topsham, taking home new clothes and school supplies courtesy of the Salvation Army and Target.

The Bath-Brunswick Salvation Army teamed up with the Topsham Target to do some back-to-school shopping with children staying at Tedford Housing in Brunswick. Each of the eight kids, ranging from pre-school to high school, got a $75 gift card for their Wednesday shopping spree, and Salvation Army volunteers and parents walked alongside to help.

“At first they might be a little shy,” said Salvation Army Lt. Kirsten Childs. “It was just encouraging them to choose what they want and then you see the smiles creep across their face once they realized they could get what they wanted.”

Tedford Housing works to house and support area families at risk of homelessness, as well as unaccompanied teens. The group also provides school-age children backpacks filled with school supplies through a program with Adoptive and Foster Families of Maine.

Heading into a new year with new supplies can help fight the stigma of homelessness and poverty, according to organizers.

“They’re just regular kids,” said Tedford Development Director Jennifer Iacovelli. “They want to be able to have the same things.”

Most recent data from the Maine Department of Education show 30 percent of Brunswick public school students qualify for free or reduced lunch, a common measure of student poverty. That number jumps to 37 percent in Topsham-based Maine School Administrative District 75 and 44 percent in Bath-based Regional School Unit 1.

In Brunswick, officials say the district has been proactive assisting its at-risk students. Assistant Superintendent Pender Makin credits the McKinney-Vento Homeless Students Act for helping homeless students make what can be a difficult transition. The law waives the need for families to provide the paperwork needed to enroll at a school if they qualify as a homeless student.

“It can be a long journey from where they go to school during the day to where they go to bed at night,” said Makin. “We are required to provide the transportation regardless. We are also glad that’s the law because our challenges are so much less than what these students have.”

Makin works as the liaison in the district for homeless students. She worked with about 80 homeless students last year, she said.

“I think its important for us to remember we don’t know where any adult or student is coming from,” said Makin. “It’s kind of all around us, something as simple as a pre-paid cellphone can help an adult get a job. When you see no address or cellphone number on a job application, it can hurt their chances.”

She noted the lives of atrisk students can change quickly, and there have been situations where a student is living on someone’s couch only to quickly move. Living with that instability is just one disadvantage.

“It’s very difficult not having the cool shoes, or clothes, or even a ride,” said Makin. “You’re isolated from participating in after school activities if you don’t have a ride.”

There has been community support surrounding students, according to Makin. She pointed to a local effort to keep money in a taxi fund to allow parents of students in need to travel to parentteacher conferences.

Parents watched with smiles as their kids checked out at Target on Wednesday.

Lacey Carson was there with her five daughters. They recently moved to Maine from Florida. Carson said they were mislead to believe they had a place to stay, and were left without a home or the money they paid in advance. She has been working this summer to find a home for her family.

“Definitely with girls they’re like ‘shopping? Yes lets go,’” said Carson. “They have most of their supplies taken care of but they’re growing out of clothes so fast.”

Salvation Army Lt. Darlene Clark walked one of Carson’s daughters through the store. Clark lives in Rochester, New York, but wanted to volunteer while on vacation in Maine.

“It was fun because she has an eye for matching clothes,” Clark said of Carson’s daughter. “She knew what she wanted, she shopped around the whole thing and then went back to get what she wanted.”

Clark waited with her new friend while her sisters finished shopping. Carson said her daughters like to have clothes they can call theirs whenever possible, opposed to sharing or handing down their belongings.

Childs and her husband, Neil, who also works with the Salvation Army, hope to continue shopping trips for homeless children around the start of each back-toschool season. It’s something they have been looking to re-start since taking over as officers at the Bath location in June 2017.

“I’m just grateful we’re able to do this for a few,” said Kirsten Childs. “It makes a difference for any of the few.”

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