PORT ALLEN, LA — Chase Nyland-Square recognized a sad truth last year and turned it over and over in his head. Some Port Allen Middle School students, whose parents struggle to put food on the table, let alone buy them the latest fashions, have trouble fitting in.
Some missed the school dance because they didn’t think they had the right clothes to wear. Some skipped class because money was too short to buy a notebook. Others just needed a new toothbrush.
All of that — the unfairness of it all, the inequality, the real possibility they might be bullied — hurt the 13-year-old’s great big heart. What could he, kid whose family is more fortunate than many in Port Allen, do about that?
Kids are bullied for a variety of reasons, sometimes because they can’t afford the clothes the “cool” kids wear. That shouldn’t happen, Chase said in his pitch to Jessica Major, the middle school principal.
Wouldn’t it be neat, he said, if kids could discreetly go to a pantry of some sort and pick up some modern,clean clothing, a toothbrush and toothpaste or other hygiene needs?
“A lot of kids don’t have a lot of things,” Chase told The Advocate newspaper in Baton Rouge. “We don’t want kids to be categorized by things they don’t have.”
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Major thought Chase had a great idea. This year, PAMS Pantry — the acronym stands for Port Allen Middle School — is making life easier for kids in the small community of about 5,300 located just across the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge.
The income inequality in Port Allen is stark. The families of about 35 percent of kids under 18 live below the poverty line, according to U.S. Census figures.
“I want to make everyone equal,” Chase told the Baton Rouge newspaper.
He spent part of the summer vacation working in the pantry and puts in hours every day moving the best of the donated nearly new clothing to the front of the racks.
“My favorite part about helping with the pantry is getting types of clothes and sorting them out to give to various people,” Chase told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“It makes me feel good because I know that I can make a difference in my school,” he said.
He certainly has.
Technology teacher Michelle Tureau told The Advocate the ability to discreetly ask for help has had a remarkable effect on students’ self-esteem.
“It’s helping their confidence in their appearance and how they present themselves in the world,” she said. “It levels the playing field in how their perceived.”
Chase’s mother, Amanda Square, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that her son has “a great passion for people” and has volunteered in other ways. One example: He organized a donation drive to collect about 700 pairs of socks for homeless people in the Baton Rouge area.
“It makes me proud because we’re very blessed and I always encourage him to bless others,” Square told the news program.
“I have a heart for giving,” Chase said.
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