Free program provides real solutions at Kent-Meridian High School

Jan 4, 2024, 10:38 AM | Updated: Apr 22, 2024, 10:47 am

Image: Kent-Meridian High School students (from left to right): Sophomore Ellie Hoyt, Junior Maryam...

Kent-Meridian High School students (from left to right): Sophomore Ellie Hoyt, Junior Maryama Barkadle standing in front of the main KM-HUB location in front of the school's main office. (Photo: Lisa Brooks, KIRO Newsradio)

(Photo: Lisa Brooks, KIRO Newsradio)

High school students are always in need of things like pencils notebooks, tissues, or any host of supplies.

Sometimes they just forget to bring them from home. But, other times, there’s just not enough money, or family awareness to buy them.

Kent-Meridian High School in the Kent Valley has a lot of students like that.

That’s why the KM-HUB was created.

Data provided by the school’s leadership show Kent-Meridian is one of the largest and most diverse public high schools in the state of Washington.

In the 2023-2024 school year, it lists students from 76 countries, speaking 62 different languages, with some not understanding English at all. The school’s 1753 students span all races and income levels.

The KM-HUB, or just “The Hub” as it’s known, is not a school store selling pencils and other school supplies. It provides those and much more for free.

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Teacher April Thousand said when she and two other science teachers decided to create “The Hub” in 2017, they wanted to serve all kinds of needs.

“We saw a lot of non-academic needs not being filled,” Thousand explained. “And, if you don’t have toiletries and school supplies, it gets in the way of your learning.”

“The Hub” was created to fill some gaps and get students to immediate resources, she said. It also helps them connect with an individual or agency that can help if the need is larger.

Thousand, and colleagues Jen Hinerman and Kim Roberts figured out how to source donations from everywhere.

Two churches now provide full meal kits, hats, gloves and winter coats the kids can take home.

Snacks like pretzels and cookies come from several airlines that are not allowed to serve wrapped packs to passengers if they come from previously-opened bags used on other flights.

So those big bags are sent to a warehouse at Sea-Tac Airport.

The bags are stored and collected by another Kent School District employee who lets Thousand, Hinerman and Roberts know when they have a large donation to pick up at the warehouse. The three teachers then scramble to get to the snacks in short order, pick them up, and unload their filled SUVs at “The Hub.”

The teachers, who like to collectively call themselves “The Sunshine Ninjas” also set up an Amazon wish list. A local bank branch has been known to pitch in. And sometimes, they buy needed items with their own money.

All the kids at Kent-Meridian, like sophomore Ellie Hoit have access to everything in The Hub, at any time during the school day.

“I’ve used The Hub a couple of times for period products,” Hoit said. “I’ve also used it for a folder, like when I forgot, the first week of school, or like, tissues.”

Teacher Jen Hinerman said other teachers pitch in with sanitary supplies. They’ve come up with a discreet way to share that information with the students or, on occasion, other teachers.

“If there’s a red dot on that teacher’s door, that means they have period products in their rooms, so they don’t have to walk halfway across campus,” Hinerman said.

And it’s not just tampons and pads that are offered.

Thousand said they have a big need for other things girls need on their really heavy days. “We have a whole station for underwear, leggings and wet wipes, which means students don’t have to go home,” Thousand said. And she emphasized they have a tremendous range of sizes, to make sure no student is left out.

Kent-Meridian junior Maryama Barkadle said, “The Hub” also provides changing areas where students can wash up and put on fresh clothes.

“They also have washing machines, if you need to get clothes clean”.

The laundry service is provided free, by the school’s Special Education students, who use the machines as part of their life and work-skills training.

It extends to all students, not just those on their periods. Often, students experiencing homelessness who don’t have access to a washer and dryer and recent immigrants in similar situations bring their laundry to the office.

That’s where school receptionist Tara Gonzalez comes in. She connects kids with resources to fill some of the larger needs. For example, if they need large-sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner or laundry pods for everyone in the home, Gonzalez makes sure those students are taken care of.

Gonzalez also lets “The Sunshine Ninjas” know if a student is in crisis.

“We had some fires” (of local apartment buildings) Roberts explained. “And they needed something right away. It was nice to be able to help them and say hey, take these cards…they needed towels and clothes, that sort of thing.”

It takes a lot of effort to keep “The Hub” stocked, and a lot of coordination between the three Sunshine Ninjas, the front office and the different groups serving specific purposes.

You may wonder why three busy high school science teachers do the work. If you ask them, it’s a no-brainer.

“It’s a bucket filler for us,” Roberts mused. “There’s a lot of things with teaching right now…it’s hard. Especially post-covid. And this is one of the few things that makes me feel like I’m making a difference these days.”

Thousand agreed. “It’s really instant gratification. We’re filling these needs. Kids need something…we’re providing it.”

If you’re interested in learning more about or supporting the KM-HUB, their website has several ways to get involved.

Editors’ note: This story originally was published on Dec. 27, 2023 and has been updated and republished several times since then.

You can read more of Lisa Brooks’ stories here. Follow Lisa on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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Free program provides real solutions at Kent-Meridian High School