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Some Seattle PTAs are fundraising to help families with rent and basic needs

Rainier View Elementary PTSA
In partnership with the Rainier Valley Food Bank, the Rainier View Elementary PTSA has been handing out bags of food weekly to families.

In normal times, parent teacher student associations fundraise to pay for things like field trips, school supplies, or sometimes, extra school staff. But these are not normal times.

Now with so many people out of work, some of these parent groups have shifted into trying to help families cover basic needs, including rent or bills.

In the Seattle district, some schools are quite affluent, while others have a concentration of poverty. Parent groups at a couple of high-poverty schools have launched ambitious GoFundMe campaigns after seeing how many families were struggling due to job loss.

Robin Schwartz is treasurer of the parent teacher association at Concord International Elementary School in Seattle’s South Park neighborhood, home to a large Latino immigrant community. She said since the pandemic hit, they’ve redirected their organization’s entire remaining budget to helping families with basic needs, including rent.

“What we’re hearing a lot of is people don’t have any money – people who are undocumented and have lost their jobs and have zero savings and zero support from anybody,” she said.

Schwartz said so far, the PTA has helped about 75 families with financial assistance for rent or bills. The Concord PTA is trying to raise $100,000 through a GoFundMe and is a third of the way there. About three out of four students at the school qualify for free or subsidized meals.

In Southeast Seattle, Rainier View Elementary also has a large immigrant population and more than 70 percent of students qualify for free or reduced price meals. This is only the second year the school has had a PTSA.

The group’s president, Sarena Li, said the organization had initiated a program with the Rainier Valley Food Bank to hand out bags of food to families every Friday. Before the pandemic hit, they were providing bags to 25 families weekly. That’s now jumped to 70 families. She said the PTSA realized they wanted to help in a bigger way.

What we're hearing a lot of is people don’t have any money — people who are undocumented and have lost their jobs and have zero savings and zero support from anybody.

“Your kids’ classmates and parents that you know lost their jobs, can’t work, can’t leave and they’re desperate for food and any resources,” Li said. “The school doesn’t have any funds to be able to give, so we just thought why don’t we start raising money ourselves?”

Inspired by the Concord PTA GoFundMe, the Rainier View PTSA has launched a similar campaign to provide financial assistance to families struggling to pay rent or bills. They hope to raise $50,000 and are almost halfway there. Li said some people have donated their stimulus checks toward the cause.

So far the Rainier View PTSA has been able to help 48 families with financial assistance, Li said.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.