Parkrose High students offer hope to holiday homeless

Find out about a program – now in its 20th year – that helps students learn the true meaning of Christmas …

Parkrose PACE students Taylor Booth, Samantha Bates, Jon Brown, Tyla Lee, and Angel Tran start the packing process.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Continuing a 20-year tradition, students in the Parkrose Alternative Center for Education (PACE) program are continuing what they call “The Homeless Project”.

During the last few months of the year, the kids involved in this student-driven project solicit donations of personal hygiene and care items, and donations for purchases – and create Holiday packs for homeless men who will spend Christmas at one of two downtown Portland shelters.

Parkrose students Sonja Buck, Roxy Webber and Kirstina Morgan add items to the personal hygiene packs, destined for men who will be spending Christmas in a homeless shelter.

We were invited to their annual “packing day” on December 12, held in one of the PACE classrooms.

Evan McFadden, a long-time PACE instructor, watches as students set up a U-shaped packing line. “I really like teaching in the district’s alternative high school,” he told us. “Most of these kids are very bright, but they do better in a nontraditional educational setting. It’s a rigorous program; students must apply for the program, and there’s a waiting list.”

During the following hours, the students made up 400 personal hygiene kits, each one zipped into a gallon-size bag. As each bag was handed station-to-station, students loaded in toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, floss, razor, shaving cream, soap, socks – all needful things for a homeless person.

Parkrose PACE instructors Carol Hanson, Evan McFadden and Karmin Williams say they all look forward to helping their students take charge of the annual Homeless Project.

“The culmination of the project,” McFadden explained, “is when we deliver the gift bags to the homeless shelters. The homeless shelters tend to look a little drab and dreary. So we make Holiday decorations – and then decorate the shelters when we visit.”

Along with the items collected for these kits, donated funds help them purchase a “whole school bus full of supplies”, including jackets, clothing, and warm blankets.

“The shelter residents receive these gifts when they wake up on Christmas morning,” explained McFadden. “For many of these people, this will be the only Christmas gift they receive on that day.”

At the end of the assembly line, Brandon Davidson, James Staton, and Avery de Glanville close the packs – then Sean Barhman bags them for transport to homeless shelters.

Why go to all this effort for society’s outcasts?

McFadden responded, “Families in our community are facing tough financial times; some of our students come from impoverished homes. We’ve found that this activity helps them feel really good about what they do at school, and who they are. As they get involved in helping less the fortunate in the community, and it gives them a really great feeling, going into the Holiday season.”

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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