By Rick Cato
This article is the second in a series of eight articles highlighting the founding and first three years of SaddleBrooke Community Outreach (SBCO). The first article can be found at http://bit.ly/WGZ14Z.
The calendar now read winter 1997. According to co-founder Roberta Spector SaddleBrooke Women’s Outreach (SWO) was beginning to find its stride.
“We were now focused on finding a specific need to serve,” she said. “The brunt of this effort was taken on by our research committee chaired by Harriet Schultz.”
According to Harriet, “The committee had two questions. What is the greatest need to be addressed and in what geographic area should we address it? There was one catch, however. The need had to be feasible for a group of SaddleBrooke women.”
Members of the research committee fanned out across Tucson and southeastern Pinal County. The committee made site visits to area social service agencies, law enforcement agencies, schools, food banks, charities, and to churches and synagogues.
In these visits committee members asked the question, “What do you need?” The answers they received included needs relating to education, transportation, recreation, counseling, food stability, parenting, homelessness, mental health, domestic abuse, elder care and clothing.
In a word, concluded Harriet Schultz, “Everything was needed.”
“Many of the agencies and non-profits we spoke with wanted our financial support, but not necessarily our involvement,” recalled Dorothy Steffano. “We did not want to just give money. We wanted to be hands on.” Added Sandy Qureshi, “We wanted to become part of whatever community we were going to serve.”
Eventually identification of a feasible need evolved. Accounts by San Manuel teacher Laurie Steffano and others about children who did not attend school due to not having appropriate clothing to wear struck a chord with the committee. Often the children wore tattered and ill-fitting adult clothing. Shoes were routinely too large, too small, or were held together with duct tape or rubber bands. Sandy Qureshi recalled children wearing adult shoes with tissue rolled up inside the toes so they would not fall off.
Mammoth Elementary principal Diane Lemley told of how kids with only one set of clothes would sometimes come to school wearing clothes still wet from being washed the night before. One family with three children had clothes enough to send only two children to school on any given day.
The idea of a clothing bank for children that would achieve at least two goals began to emerge. Clothes might improve the students’ self-esteem and through improved school attendance clothes might have a longer-term impact on life opportunities for the kids.
The decision where to open this clothing bank came more easily. After scanning the Tucson and Pinal County environments it became obvious to the group that although needs were great in both locations, Tucson had by far more in terms of helping resources. A plan for a clothing bank serving the Tri-Communities inched closer to reality.
Now what? To achieve the above plan the women realized they had to meet four challenges. They needed to organize themselves more formally, they needed a location, they needed clothing (or money), and they needed support from SaddleBrooke.
Without hesitation SWO forged ahead.