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citySERVE aims to give back through volunteering

By Heather Graves 

GREEN BAY – For the past four years, a group of community members from varying backgrounds and beliefs has gathered together to work with one simple purpose – serve the Greater Green Bay community. 

“Drawing from experiences in other cities, we had seen schools be an area of shared concern and a great way to pull together many who wanted to make a difference in their city,” Jama Deshazer, a member of the citySERVE Green Bay leadership team, said. 

Deshazer said after a conversation and coordination with the Green Bay School District, citySERVE was publicly launched in August 2018 with School Care Day.

“More than 80 volunteers from 20 different churches gathered to work in seven schools in the Green Bay Area School District helping teachers prepare their classrooms for the start of the school year,” she said. 

Deshazer said things continued to grow from there.  

“We began to look for additional ways to care for those that might otherwise be overlooked,” she said. “On Thanksgiving morning that same year, volunteers prepared and gave Thanksgiving-themed food to pack more than 400 special Thanksgiving lunches.”

The idea caught on and has since turned into an annual event, “Operation: Turkey Bags.”

“Volunteers were deployed across the city to share surprise lunches and say ‘Thank You’ to people who might have to work, whether it be someone working at a convenience store, a fire station, hotel or a truck driver parked at a station,” Deshazer said. 

As winter set in, she said the group’s focus transitioned into needs of area foster children, which led to a collaboration and partnership with Cheri Salmon and the newly-launched Foster the Village organization.

“We gathered backpacks, socks, toothbrushes, pajamas and diapers to give that spring,” she said. “Before school started in August 2019, a group of our volunteers who were also hairdressers, gave their time to help send foster kids to school with a fresh cut and look.”

Returning to its roots, citySERVE was again able to send more than 100 volunteers into 15 schools to help ready their classrooms for the start of the school year in the second “School Care Day” event.

“It was an especially helpful year to teachers and staff, some of whom were having a total reset of their classrooms because of construction in their building over the summer,” Deshazer said. “As I was checking in with volunteers at Jackson Elementary, the then-superintendent of the district was touring a school still very much in the middle of construction dust. It was my privilege to receive her expression of great appreciation for help at all the schools on behalf of the many citySERVE volunteers.”

Pandemic changes 

Deshazer said like with many organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way citySERVE was able to serve in schools and in the community.

“We pivoted as everyone else did,” she said. “Because of our past involvement in the schools, when the school district was looking for organizations to help pass out bags full of ‘weekend food’ to students in the spring of 2020, citySERVE, along with several other organizations, was asked to help man the stations on a weekly basis from April through mid-June. Volunteers from multiple churches gathered every Friday to help with the food distribution at three school distribution sites.”

This fall, volunteers held a “Teacher Supply Drive” to collect supplies for teachers who Deshazer said many times use their own money to supplement what’s used in the classroom.

“Those supplies went to teachers at Tank Elementary,” she said. “In December, a need was expressed for food for a few families at Fort Howard Elementary, so our volunteers generously gave again. We’re hopeful that this summer we’ll be able to reenter the schools and help the teachers again during ‘School Care Day,’ and it will again become an annual event.”

Shift to Kinship Care focus

Deshazer said the partnership with Foster the Village evolved as needs changed. 

“As we continued the relationship with Foster the Village, we learned about families – grandparents, aunts and uncles – who suddenly found themselves caring for minor children without adequate resources to do so,” she said.

This, Deshazer said, led to citySERVE connecting with Katie Smith, court ordered Kinship Care coordinator for Brown County.

“We found that when these children are placed with relatives, there can be a 45-day or more wait for paperwork to go through the system and guardianship be awarded providing some financial help,” she said. “In the meantime these families must come up with the basics, laundry detergent, diapers, shampoo – all the normal hygiene products for daily living, as well as food, extra gas to get to doctor appointments and childcare many times so they can continue to work. Especially if multiple children are involved, you can imagine the added stress of trying to meet those basic physical needs.”

Deshazer said it was then that citySERVE’s focus shifted on the needs in Kinship Care, a lesser-known area of foster care.

“Last year during the month of February – and we have chosen this month because the generosity at Christmas time has faded, but the needs remain – our volunteers donated more than 4,000 diapers, 2,500 wipes, 64 double-fleece blankets, 16 containers of laundry soap, 25 bottles of shampoo, 125 toothbrushes, 66  tubes of toothpaste, 63 bars of bath soap, eight bottles of body wash and $360 in gift cards for food,” she said.

Deshazer said some of the Kinship Care needs have changed slightly this year.

“In addition to the basic supplies, we’ve been asked to give things teenagers might need, like razors and feminine supplies,” she said. “If someone wants to join us in giving, they can go to our website for a link to Sign Up Genius and an Amazon wish list.”

The group is setting aside from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Feb. 26, for a day of giving.

The Micah Center is making space available to us… not only for collecting the items, but we’ll also have supplies and instructions for making the double fleece blankets,” Deshazer said. “There will be two sessions, one at 9 a.m., the other at 10:30 a.m.  We’re encouraging families, individuals or small groups to ‘come craft for a cause.’”

For more information on citySERVE and how to get involved, visit cityservegreenbay.com.

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