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Staff Council collects donations for South Side families

Senior staff accountant Mary Vallejo-Hernandez and budget analyst Luis Rodriguez make food and toy donations to the Staff Council holiday drive box  in the university library at Main Campus Building. Photo by Lisa Warrick

By Kayla Dunlevy

Texas A&M-San Antonio Staff Council is giving back to the community this holiday season by organizing a nonperishable food drive benefiting Abraham Kazen Middle School families located on the city’s South Side. The council also collected toys and monetary donations to donate to the Elf Louise project.

Drop boxes for both initiatives are located at Main, Brooks and Gillette campuses.

“In addition to the food drive, the council will accept monetary donations,” JJ McQuade,
assistant director of procurement services, said. “Any money we collect will be used to buy turkeys to provide more of a complete meal.”

Last month, Staff Council collected food items for families in need during Thanksgiving, but as Kazen requested, the food drive was extended through December to feed families for Christmas. The collected food donations will go to families selected by the school’s counseling office.

“The council’s big motivation is giving back to the community in some way shape or form,” senior accountant Mary A. Vallejo-Hernandez said. “San Antonio is an expanding, military, philanthropy-driven city, but our main goal is embracing the city’s South Side.”

“Service is a central mission of Texas A&M-San Antonio and the university gives back to the community in a variety of ways,” Jill Reddish, communications specialist and staff council president, said.

Local schools in need

Abraham Kazen Middle School is one of four middle schools serving more than 2,100 students in the South San Antonio Independent School District.

Abraham Kazen Counselor Pat Edwards said the “families needing assistance become known to us with time” because the the community surrounding Kazen is a stable population with multi-generational families, as opposed to a transient community.

A 2011 district fact sheet lists 84.5 percent of the student population categorized as at-risk, and 87.7 percent as economically disadvantaged. Ninety-six percent of district students are Hispanic.

To ensure students had certain necessities and to build a relationship, A&M-San Antonio and Kazen built a partnership about four years ago. Within the past four years, Kazen has received a great amount of support from Texas A&M-San Antonio, Edwards said.

Most recently this fall, the university contributed school supplies, which Edwards said were greatly needed and appreciated.

Edwards, a counselor at Kazen Middle School for thirteen years, said the school also partners with feeder elementary schools, primarily Palo Alto and Kindred elementary schools so when students are transitioning over to middle school, counselors collaborate and generally the students needs are known.

Teachers and staff of Kazen will also refer families to Edwards if students have high absences and if it seems the family is having particular difficulties.

“The community is tight knit. Honestly, I’ve been here so long, families will call me — they bring me up to speed with what is happening, and we do home visits,” Edwards said. “Students needs are identified in a variety of ways, but sources are amazingly direct.”

Throughout the year, middle school counselors are made aware of all kinds of needs and levels of assistance including getting utilities turned back on, transportation, food and clothing.

University provides community support

The university has a longstanding relationship with Kazen and South San Independent School District, Mary A. Vallejo-Hernandez, A&M-San Antonio senior staff accountant, said.

“The new property Kazen transitioned into is located right next door to the Gillette Campus, so we’ve always had ties to them, Vallejo-Hernandez said. “Not only because they’re our neighbors but we’re also currently leasing their old school.”

The building at 1450 Gillette Blvd. is owned by South San Independent School District and is leased for $1 per year to the university, said Vallejo-Hernandez.

Currently, the office of human resources, procurement and other university offices are located in the building on Gillette Boulevard, about one mile from Main Campus.

The university’s classes and operations are spread across the South and Southeast Side of the city while two new buildings are under construction at Main Campus, located at South Zarzamora Street and Loop 410.

This holiday season, student organizations are getting involved as well.

Staff Council is collaborating with Campus Crusaders for Christ, a faith-based student organization, who is also holding a food drive to feed families in the community. The two groups are collaborating in order to meet both groups’ goals of feeding as many families as possible.

Reached by phone last week McQuade said they had collected about five donated turkeys.

“Were trying to feed as many families as we can,” he said.

Staff Council will deliver the donations Dec. 17 just before the students are released on Christmas break. The Elf Louise toy drive ended Dec 12.

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