MONTPELIER — Novel times call for novel measures and with schools dismissed due to the disease caused by the novel coronavirus a local parents group that goes by its sweet-sounding acronym – PIE – has been busy launching hyper-local, highly portable libraries and acquiring school supplies on a grand scale.
“We’re just trying to fill gaps,” PIE President and Montpelier mom Adrienne Gil said of the parent-run organization (Partners in Education) that was formed in the wake of the voter-approved merger that created the Montpelier Roxbury Public School District nearly two years ago.
At the time, the two-town district had autonomous parents’ groups at each of its four schools – three in Montpelier and one in Roxbury.
That hasn’t changed.
However, six months after the launch of the merger Gil said MRPS PIE was incorporated as a non-profit organization – one designed to provide financial support, coordination and advocacy for the individual parents groups.
“PIE is the umbrella,” Gil explained.
Suddenly it’s raining and when it became clear the storm associated with COVID-19 would linger longer than initially anticipated, Gil said the group sought to provide some assistance.
First, Gil said, the group did it’s homework – consulting with school officials and later surveying nearly half of the 700 families that are served by the now-shuttered school system.
Gil said the survey was designed to answer a simple question – “What do our school families need now?” – and provide direction to an organization eager to contribute in a meaningful way that wasn’t redundant.
According to Gil, the survey flagged three areas of need – books, school supplies and social and emotional support – and PIE is well on its way to tackling the first two, while serving as a conduit for the third.
Gil said the group went for the “easy win” first. It quickly amassed more than 600 donated books – some new, most gently used and all suitable for students from preschoolers to high school seniors.
Those books have since been separated placed in plastic totes and strategically placed around Montpelier, as well as at the Roxbury Village School.
Though the school district has supplied students with digital reading material, Gil said many children and young adults prefer books they can hold and they had exhausted the supply they had at home in the six weeks since face-to-face instruction was suspended and school buildings across Vermont were closed.
“Books was definitely something we could do,” Gil said of an effort that was kicked off over the weekend and is expected to expand in coming days.
In addition to Roxbury Village School, the book-filled totes can be found at four Montpelier locations. They are located outside the gym entrance at Main Street Middle School, the College Hall entry to Cafe Anna at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, outside Laura Frankse’s home at 174 Berlin Street and at the corner of Deerfield Drive and Dunpatrick Circle.
Gil said the next location will likely be on Cummings Street and the group is inviting those interested in donating books for students of all ages to make arrangements by sending them an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
That, Gil said, will allow the group to add new locations and supplement an Encyclopedia Brown meets Diary of a Wimpy Kid collection that at one location Wednesday featured a book – The Velveteen Rabbit – that was first published in 1922 with one featuring The Paw Patrol.
The “take what you need” book locations were PIE’s first initiative, but Gil said the second is coming very soon. They’re still waiting for a delivery of Crayons to arrive, but Gil said most of the school supplies from notebooks, pens and pencils to scissors and staplers are now in hand and will soon be distributed to families who need them.
PIE Vice President Meghan McGeary and Catherine Nunnelley spent part of their Wednesday afternoon sorting through the supplies on the lawn of McGeary’s home on East State Street. Their work, Gil said, and the $1,380 worth of supplies the group ordered online from Staples will aid families who didn’t think schools would be closed for the remainder of the year when students were initially dismissed for two weeks in mid-March.
Many of those parents didn’t send their children to school for the two days following the announcement and those that did didn’t instruct them to clear out their lockers and desks.
“Everybody thought we were coming back in two weeks,” Gil said. “It left families with nothing.”
Going back to school shopping in late-April isn’t typically a thing, but Gil said these are typical times.
“There are families out there who don’t have easy access or the resources to purchase those supplies so we thought that was an easy thing for us to do to help families out,” she said.
McGeary echoed that assessment.
“We’re doing what we can to help families through a difficult time,” she said.
noting the details of the distribution haven’t been finalized and is weather-dependent.
McGeary said Nunnelly will be handing out the bundles of supplies – 135 of them – at the district’s four meal distribution sites next week.
Weather-permitting, Nunnelly will be at Montpelier High School from 11 to 11:30 a.m. on Monday. If it rains she’ll be there on Tuesday instead.
Wednesday’s forecast appears clear and Nunnelly, a member of the parents group at Union Elementary School, will be at Roxbury Village School handing out supplies from 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. that day.
Nunnelly has back-to-back dates on Friday (May 8). She’ll be at the Cummings Street meal distribution site from 11 to 11:30 a.m. and then scoot over to Hunger Mountain Co-op to distribute supplies from 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
Meanwhile, Gil said tax-deductible donations can be made to the group using its website – mrpspie.org – and the organization has already received donations of gift card to several local businesses – Bear Pond Books, Capitol Stationers, Woodbury Mountain Toys, and The Drawing Board among them – that it will provided to families who need supplemental supplies.
“We’re trying to do whatever we can do locally to support our families,” Gil said, who wistfully recalls the pre-pandemic days when the organization’s primary focus was the “Fall Festival” that last year raised $15,000.
“It seems so long ago,” she said, noting the money from the fundraiser was distributed to parent’s groups at all four schools.
Those schools will remain closed until further notice and this year’s “Fall Festival” is a huge question mark.
“Who knows what September will bring,” said Gil, who is hoping for a return to some semblance of normalcy.
“If we can bring the community together in the fall that would be wonderful,” she said. “Right now we’re just trying to make sure our families have what they need.”