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When School is Out During the Holidays

During the academic year, afterschool programs and camps fill academic and nutritional gaps for families and provide social-emotional support for children enduring tough times. What happens during holiday vacations when centers close to maintain safety during a pandemic season if outbreaks occur?

Community-based organizations and local businesses join hands, meeting the needs of families for food, clothing, hygiene, and cleaning items. Not to mention the continuation of virtual support to prevent learning loss amongst students by supplying digital devices with Internet access and take-home learning kits. Children are enriched, and parents learn new ways of cooking healthy meals, access educational and financial assistance.

Countless Mississippi nonprofits and service organizations such as Junior League of Jackson, Operation Shoestring, Genesis and Light Center, Salvation Army, Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Mississippi and United Way of the Capital Area supply these resources, and library systems consistently deliver educational services. Advocacy groups like Children’s Defense Fund and Mississippi Low Income Childcare Initiative keep policy matters regarding equal pay for women and single mothers and childcare programs in front of local and state lawmakers. 

Mississippi District 68 Representative Zakiya Summers witnesses these collaborations. A member of the Legislature’s education and public health and human services committees, Summers believes investment and collaboration are keys to community outreach. 

Regarding a tour of Operation Shoestring’s facility in an impoverished section of Northwest Jackson, the nonprofit “not only stood in the gap for the children and families they serve, but also serve as a bridge to ensure a sense of sustainability,” Summers said. “Through investments from corporate and non-corporate partners as well as individuals, Operation Shoestring shifted from after school services to creating classrooms inside its facility, providing resources and services to parents based on survey results, and collaborating with faith entities like Wells Church to supplement its programs.”

Look around the community and on social media to see actionable solutions by area partnerships. For example, the Junior League of Jackson supplied take-home learning kits for students in after school and virtual learning programs. The Magnolia Bar Association, Southern Farm Bureau, St. James Episcopal Church and local growers like Footprint Farms supply Thanksgiving food boxes to fill cupboards of Operation Shoestring families. Chase Bank and Parker Lifeshore Foundation connect families to financial stability. 

Junior League of Jackson President Katie Lightsey Browning said her organization’s primary goal is improving the graduation rate in Jackson because members have had to adjust to the learning loss caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the projects, created to address the issue, are “I Read More With My Buddy” with Jackson Public Schools, “Wholesome & Healthy” for Operation Shoestring, and “Play. Eat. Learn.” partnership with the Mississippi Children’s Museum and Center for the Advancement of Youth at University of Mississippi Medical Center.

“We are fortunate to have been able to continue meaningful relationships with these partners throughout the pandemic in the areas of early literacy, children’s health, and the social development of children and youth,” Browning said. “This holiday season, we continue to provide food for families through our partnership with Mississippi Food Network, warm outerwear through our ‘Coats for Kids’ collection initiative, and holiday cheer to students served by Methodist Children’s Homes of Mississippi and Canopy Children’s Solutions, among other projects and initiatives.”

There’s no shortage of help across the Hospitality State during the holidays, and it’s more evident during a lengthy pandemic season. “When nonprofits and the business community are able to partner, we often see the needs of vulnerable communities met in a more productive way,” Summers said. “It is critical that we value these corporations and show support on behalf of those who need it most.”

Terricha Phillips loves Jesus and good books, being a mom of two sweet children and home cooking with her husband James. Living in Jackson for 10 years left an indelible impression on her life, because it is where she matured into motherhood.

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