MUSCATINE — Off of Jeff Keith's classroom at West Middle School, a door leads into a 10-by-20-foot room. A line of coats, shirts, shorts and pants line one side. On another are cabinets. Each are filled with an array of food items and the odds and ends that make up a good dopp kit: deodorant, toothbrush, lotions and shampoo, to name just a few.
Each week, anywhere from 12 to 30 students come to Keith's classroom to make use of the Muskie Locker, a resource for Muscatine students in need of food supplements, clothing or hygiene products.
"I provide food for the weekend, snacks throughout the day, whatever they may need," Keith said. "If they are not getting it at home, they know that they can come get it from me without any questions asked."
Jeff Keith teaches at-risk students at West. He said that it's important for students to know he is available when they have a need that they cannot meet on their own.
"If home life is not what everyone has in mind as a perfect home life, if the parents can't afford or don't have the ability to take care of the child's needs, students know they can come to me," Keith said. "We have the ability to take care of those needs. Whether it's as simple as a toothbrush and toothpaste or even trying to get a doctor's visit for a sports physical."
Keith said that part of the service is avoiding prying into conditions. When students express a need, Keith just works to fulfill it.
"The kids feel comfortable enough to come to me and ask without any questions on my behalf on why they aren't receiving it," Keith said. "It doesn't put the parent in the middle."
The program began three years ago at Muscatine High School, but just recently expanded to the middle schools. Rebecca Paulsen, a volunteer coordinator, said she didn't even know it was a problem in the beginning.
"I have a daughter in the middle school, but before that, I didn't realize that such a need existed," Paulsen said. "I like that it provides for students a chance to have their needs met. They aren't as resourceful as high schoolers. They don't have friends that can drive. They need these resources inside the school."
By building and using those networks of trust, Paulsen hopes the program can help overcome the obstacles stand between a student and their next meal.
Keith said middle schoolers can be difficult to reach because of the social pressures they face.
"A lot of times when you are talking about middle school age, the kids are embarrassed," Keith said. "They don't want to go and ask someone that they are strangers with for help. You build that report with them and get to know them so that when they are ready, they can come in and say, 'Hey, can I get a toothbrush' or 'I'm out of shampoo at home. Can you help me out'?"
Keith said, just at West, 12 to 20 students receive supplemental meal packages each weekend to prevent them from going hungry without dependable school lunches and breakfasts.
Keith said he feels fortunate to have had the community service he has experienced with the program. But the meals are the result of fundraising and volunteer time.
At 4-8 p.m. on Tuesday at Faith United Church, volunteers will be bagging meals for the Muskie Lockers program. Nichole Sorgenfrey is managing the packing day to help provide those meals.
"We have kids that are hungry and in need of food," she said. "We had given them some food to test with it and we found that kids were taking it and wanting it. So we decided that all of our packing for Giving Tuesday would go towards Muskie Locker."
They will be bagging up tomato basil pasta, mac and cheese and cinnamon apple oatmeal packages. Each will be capable of feeding six persons.
They received $5,000 in donations that will go to make 10,800 meals.