Going into School District 2's winter break, each school in the district offers a gift donation to students identified through the district's homeless student program. It's a massive undertaking, with more than 600 homeless students in the district and dozens of community donations coming in.
“I get the best job because I get to give the presents to the kids,” said Career Center secretary Leslie Converse. “We couldn’t do this without the community.”
Converse credited SD2 homeless student liaison Sue Runkle with helping grow community awareness about student homelessness.
“I think it’s getting out there a lot," Converse said. "We have a lot of donations to our teen pantry and our food pantry.”
Runkle also helps coordinate community donations, and ensures that students get a gift, whether they pick it up at school or get it delivered. Converse said that the Career Center had students picking up gifts starting Monday this week.
Student homelessness in Billings takes many forms. Students' families could be in between housing, or living out of a vehicle. They could be in a shelter. Or students could be couch surfing or cobbling together frequently changing living situations.
Billings consistently identifies more homeless students than any other school system in the state, and student homelessness statewide is on the rise.
At the Career Center, staff also helps chip in to supply necessary items, like toiletries, and students can pick up what they need. But some of the organized gifts are just tooth brushes, but something that might arrive under under a Christmas tree.
“They respond really well to it,” said Career Center Principal Scott Anderson.