Student helps school children with necessities

Senior Baylee Pirtle created a project to collect food and clothes for children at Weeden Elementary. “As a child, you shouldn’t have to worry about when you’re going to eat dinner,” she said.

Senior Baylee Pirtle began a project to help local children in 2014 after volunteering at Broadway Recreation Center in Florence.

A Phi Mu sister who worked there explained to her the home lives and situations of some of the children who visited the center, she said.

When her boyfriend’s sister, who works at Weeden Elementary School, told her some of the children would save their lunches for dinner because they may not get to eat otherwise, she knew she had to help, she said.

“The worst that’s going to happen is we’re going to help somebody,” she said.

She met with Guidance Counselor Marlon Johns at the school before acting, she said. He told her 96 percent of the students in the school come from below-average income homes.

“So I decided to do a Christmas project every year,” she said. “Basically, I ran it by my Phi Mu chapter, and I explained to them what those kids are having to go through. As a child, you shouldn’t have to worry about when you’re going to eat dinner, or if you’re going to eat dinner.”

She met with Johns again and decided to help 20 students, she said.

“We tried to get from each teacher a kid from each class that they felt like really needed some help,” Pirtle said.

Johns said he and the teachers at the school were impressed with Pirtle’s drive and organization.

“I’ve got great kids,” he said. “They just don’t have a lot.”

Sorority sisters and community members began donating money, Pirtle said.

Baylee was very passionate and organized, said senior Hadley Skalnik.

“Many people get caught up in the emotional aspects of service, but Baylee saw a problem and simply sought to solve it,” Skalnik said.

Pirtle collected approximately $2,500 and gathered friends and family to help shop for clothes and food for the children.

Junior and friend Caitlin Thornton helped Pirtle shop for and package the items.

“We did it where each kid had enough food for three meals a day for two weeks, which is the amount of time they’re out of school for Christmas,” Pirtle said. “We also did $100 in new clothes per kid.”

Once they purchased all the items, she delegated work between her family and friends, she said.

“We had a lot of stuff,” she said. “You know the shows where people do the extreme couponing? That’s what my house looked like.”

Thornton said helping with the project was a wonderful experience.

“It felt good knowing I helped put a smile on the children’s faces,” she said.

Pirtle and volunteers put all the items in plastic storage totes and delivered them to the school, she said.

“I’ve never met any of the kids that got one,” she said. “I’ve never met any of the parents, and I’ve never been in any of the homes.”

Johns said Pirtle and the others helped children who might not have been able to get help from other avenues.

“They went over and above to make sure these kids got what they needed over the break,” he said.

Pirtle continued the project last Christmas but was only able to help 10 children because donations were lower than they were in 2014, she said.

Though she plans to graduate in December, she hopes to continue the project at Christmas, she said.

Anyone interested in donating or volunteering can contact her at [email protected].

Editor’s Note: Pirtle won the Outstanding Volunteerism for an Individual award at the April 25 Awards Gala.