Grady Cares: A year in the making

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Courtesy of Meghan McCloskey

Grady Principal Dr. Betsy Bockman speaks to volunteers at a food distribution for Grady Cares.

Yei Bin Andrews

In the fall of 2019, a group of parents at Inman Middle school joined forces to form a collective effort to give back to the Grady community. One of their initiatives included filling backpacks with school supplies. Grady parent Linda Brenner brought this initiative to Grady, thus creating Grady Cares. 

“They were doing very specific things for a small group, a very specific group of kids in need at that point,” Brenner said. “They were collecting backpacks and supplies. And I kind of took that, and I was involved in that effort, but then suggested that we go beyond Inman and take it to Grady.” 

Brenner has played an instrumental role in shaping Grady Cares into the large force that it is now. In December of 2019, she created its Facebook Page. The initiative immediately took off, and as of Fall 2020, the page has over 1,200 members. 

“What has happened when we were in school is we would hear about a need through a counselor or social worker, and it would be totally anonymous,” Brenner said. “It would say something like, ‘An 11th-grade girl is living in her car with her mom who just lost a job. They need sleeping bags; they need a Target gift card, etc.’ So, I would tell that story and put a very specific ask out on the Facebook page.” 

Brenner explained that the Grady community is always quick to support students and families in need. However, because of the lack of in-person school due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Grady Cares is having a harder time connecting with students. 

“The people that have always helped them [students in need] were the social worker and the counselor, and now that connection is greatly frayed,” Brenner said. “And some of these kids are off the grid. Some of them have moved away. Some that were in shelters are no longer in shelters, but it’s unclear where they are, and getting in touch with them and their families is very hard. We have totally flipped. We’ve decided we’re not going to wait till people come to us.  We’re now going to go out and find the needs through a variety of different ways.” 

One of the ways in which Grady Cares is continuing its advocacy is through food donation. Megan McCloskey is the Environmental Science teacher at Springdale Park Elementary School (SPARK). As a part of her classes, McCloskey was planting and harvesting fruits and vegetables on the school’s roof-top garden to donate to the food pantry. 

“When I was dropping off some produce, I saw a SPARK parent in line for food, and that’s a very difficult thing to see,” McCloskey said. “I recognized the mom, and I knew who her children were. Then, talking with the school principal, I was like, ‘What can we do?’ and he was the one that suggested Grady Cares.”

Many members of Grady Cares have said that handing out and distributing food has highlighted how hard the pandemic has hit the Grady community. 

“We set up a little pop-up stand at one of the areas where the need is the greatest,” McCloskey said. “We had a lot of books and just a little bit of food, and we realized how quickly the food was going. We did it again, and the same thing, the food went first. We just realized there needs to be a shift; we need to focus on providing food for these families.” 

Twice every month, Grady cares hosts food distributions, and families are able to get pantry staples. 

Senior Jafet Higuera-Renteria heard from his parents that Grady Cares was giving away food. 

“I have participated in helping give out boxes and bags of food to an area of apartments,” Higuera-Renteria said. “Those apartments mostly speak Spanish, and since I’m bilingual, I help some people explain what we are doing. It has helped people who needed resources to have them and to reduce the amount of stress that people have in the situation we are in.” 

McCloskey, Brenner and Higuera-Renteria are helping to bridge the disconnect between families in need and available resources.

“We’re not trying to recreate the wheel and replace any of the great food pantries that are out there,” McCloskey said. “But, we’re just trying to make sure that they do have some regular access to food and just stay in touch with them, Dr. Bockman (Principal Dr. Betsy Bockman) and myself both being APS staff members in the community. It’s a really great way for us to stay connected to these families right now.”

McCloskey and Brenner also credit many of the efforts and advocacy to Principal Dr. Betsy Bockman. Currently, Grady Cares is working with the Atlanta Step-Up Society to donate furniture and other goods to the Zone 6 Thrift Store. 

“Grady has a sizable number of students that are in shelters or are homeless and in rent-by-the-week hotels,” Dr. Bockman said at a Nov. 2 Atlanta Board of Education meeting. “So now, we have a thrift store called Zone 6.” 

Grady Cares has evolved into a cycle of giving and receiving in the Grady community. Freshman Sawyer Miyaki and his Boy Scout troop built and stained a bookshelf as a contribution for Grady Cares. Grady Cares positively impacts the community by helping those in need, he said. 

“I think that in the future, the Grady Cares organization could expand with the help of more volunteers,” Miyaki said. “They can further their physical reach and their ability to help people in need.”

 

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