TAMPA — When Ken Gaughan began his career in Hillsborough County as a school social worker in the 1980s, he collected clothing and other necessities for students who came from poor families.
He stored the supplies in the trunk of his car and sometimes spent his own money.
“I’d have to wash them, and I never had the right size,” said Gaughan, now the district’s supervisor of school social work services.
Today, school social workers still gather these things — along with hygiene basics such as toothbrushes and laundry detergent.
But they have help from the Outreach Assisting Students in Schools Network, a nonprofit organization that has helped school social workers for 13 years.
OASIS is on track to open a fourth center in Seffner this fall, a request from social workers in eastern and southern Hillsborough schools.
It was quite a hike for social workers who serve schools in that area to drive to one of the other locations for supplies.
“It’s going to be more convenient, and resources will be more accessible,” Gaughan said. “We’re very fortunate to have them in the community. We really are able to meet people’s needs pretty easily with their assistance.”
About 60 percent of the more than 200,000 students who attend Hillsborough County public schools live in poverty. More than 2,500 of them are homeless.
An estimated 70,000 students in eastern and southern Hillsborough will benefit from the new center, which will be housed in an elementary school. One-third of the district’s 175 social workers are stationed in those areas.
Social workers says it’s tough to motivate students to show up to school if they are embarrassed about their clothes, hygiene or too-small shoes.
“Our purpose is to have kids be able to go to school,” OASIS chairwoman Leslie Farrell said.
The organization runs mainly on volunteers, using grants and donations.
The social workers make lists of items students need and visit one of three OASIS sites in south Tampa, east Tampa and Tampa Palms. They sign in and browse the shelves for new or used items to bring back for their schools.
“It’s very meaningful and very easy,” Gaughan said.
Shoes, jeans and underwear are some of the most-needed items. The nonprofit also purchases new toothbrushes, shampoo and other toiletries, as well as alarm clocks.
“Some kids are on their own in the morning,” Farrell said. “They don’t have anybody to wake them up.”
Leslie Farrell’s 16-year-old son Tristan Farrell, who will be a junior at Plant High School in the fall, sifted through boxes of clothing at the south Tampa center Monday, sorting each item by size and gender. He has volunteered with OASIS for a couple of years.
“It really helps the school system,” Tristan Farrell said. “It helps kids fit in and makes them more willing to go to school.”
About 10 volunteers are needed to run the new center, which will serve students in Brandon, Riverview, Fish Hawk, Plant City, Dover, Valrico, Ruskin and Wimauma. Volunteers pick up donated clothing from community drop-off locations and sort it into categories.
OASIS is also looking for a business or two in the Seffner area that would be willing to set up a semi-permanent clothing receptacle, as well as volunteers interested in hosting clothing drives.
Farrell hopes the new center is running by late August.
To volunteer, visit oasis-network.org/volun teer.html or call 975-8179.