Despite extensive government programs to help students who are homeless or otherwise in need, there are always gaps.
For instance: The federal McKinney-Vento Act provides money to cover homeless students' academic needs, which includes buying them a school uniform. But that doesn't cover everything.
"Toiletries are not considered an academic need, therefore we’re not able to buy toiletries for our families," says Sonia Jenkins, the McKinney-Vento specialist for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. "So washing powder, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, things of that nature. We’re not able to pay for those things."
Likewise, the district doesn't have money for additional clothing items that may be needed when a child lacks a stable home.
"If we can’t put any clean underwear, socks and shoes on them it defeats the purpose of having a brand-new clean uniform," Jenkins says.
Educators have been known to dip into their own pockets, and many schools have partnerships with houses of worship, businesses and community groups that help. In January, CMS also rolled out Purposity, an app that lets individuals buy such items for homeless students.
Social workers in 10 CMS schools with high needs provide specific requests to the Atlanta-based group that created Purposity (the name is a combination of "purpose" and "generosity"). When donors fund those needs Purposity has the items delivered to the social worker, who gets the items directly to the students or parents.
As of Sunday, 2,137 people had downloaded the app for CMS and purchased more than 1,000 items. Thirty-three new items were posted, including a new coat for $57, dishes for a family for $43 and an $11 pair of jeans.
Anyone can download Purposity from Google Play or Apple's app store, then choose Charlotte as their community. Jenkins says as the donor base grows more schools can start submitting their students' needs.
Other groups in the area provide support as well. A Child's Place has been working with CMS to support homeless students since 1989, and is always recruiting donors and volunteers. Bright Blessings, based in Matthews, delivers birthday treats and gifts to every student who qualifies for McKinney-Vento aid.
Jenkins says principals were initially reluctant to take on the additional work of providing birthday lists to the group. The roster of McKinney-Vento students is always changing as families lose their homes; CMS has about 2,900 identified so far this year, and the number is expected to be close to 5,000 by the end of the school year.
But Jenkins says they're on board now, because they realize even one small bright spot can make a difference for kids whose lives are filled with anxiety.