TAMPA — Now that school is in full swing and summer is a fading memory, imagine being one of the hundreds of students in Hillsborough County living in poverty. Their closets aren’t filled with back-to-school fashions, new shoes and a brand-new backpack. For many, the lucky ones slide into ill-fitting hand-me-downs from older siblings, shoes a size too tight or too big – or maybe they have nothing at all.
Nearly 55 percent of Hillsborough County students live in poverty, as evidenced by the amount of students participating in the free lunch programs.
Founded in 2001 with locations in New Tampa, East Tampa, South Tampa and Seffner, the OASIS Network, a grassroots, volunteer-driven organization, wants to eliminate the issues that surround children who do without while giving them everything they need to keep them coming to school.
“OASIS was founded 14 years ago by two mothers in Tampa Palms who were concerned about school children less fortunate than their own children,” said Leslie Farrell, OASIS chairman of the board. “They realized the profound need that existed and wanted to do something to help. They joined with others and the first OASIS was born, in Tampa Palms. Gradually, two more were opened and last year, the fourth.”
The award-winning nonprofit serves underprivileged students in Hillsborough County by providing new and gently worn children’s clothes and other essentials. Though most recipients are elementary school age, there are times when younger siblings and students’ babies also get clothes without cost.
OASIS provides not only clothing but also shoes, hygiene items and other basic necessities to students in need of assistance.
“OASIS is of significant assistance when students and their families are in need of clothing and/or hygiene items and no other resources are available,” said Ken Gaughan, supervisor of school social work services, Hillsborough County Public Schools. “OASIS is needed to support students in school and to support learning, attendance and other supports, including an improved self-esteem.”
When a social worker identifies a child in crisis, they make lists of items students need. When they visit one of the OASIS sites, they then select the items, for free and bring them back to the school. The fast process and minimal red tape enables a student to receive items the same day the need is determined.
The unique program is made possible through a partnership with some 140 social workers of Hillsborough County School District.
“I know they (social workers) really appreciate that there is no bureaucracy involved with OASIS,” said Farrell. “This is one place they can just come and get what they need, as opposed to telling families they need to fill out forms and then contact some other agency and drive across town, etc.”
With no government funding, OASIS relies solely on the support of individuals, schools, churches, foundations, corporations and charitable clubs for donations and grants. OASIS collects new and gently used clothing year-round and uses monetary donations to purchase uniforms, hygiene products, shoes, socks, undergarments, backpacks, alarm clocks and other school supplies for students. OASIS also seeks volunteers to sort, launder and organize clothing and other essential items.
To volunteer or learn how you can help OASIS, email OasisNewTampa @aol.com or visit www .oasis-network.org.