Jackson Public Schools remain closed due to low water pressure—or no water at all—in outdated school infrastructures, and many students are left wondering how they will eat during the day.
Mississippi’s capital city has struggled to function as subfreezing temperatures continue to cause water main breaks and hazardous driving conditions.
To date, 60 percent of JPS schools have low or inadequate water pressure, said JPS spokesperson Sherwin Johnson. District students have only had one day back in class since before the Christmas break, the Clarion-Ledger reports.
Gov. Phil Bryant has declared a state of emergency, and Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba is asking the state for financial help as the crisis strains the city’s budget.
“This is a national issue. There have been major issues in New York, Philadelphia, all across the country as cities deal with aging infrastructure,” Lumumba said.
While school closures themselves are difficult for families to navigate—since parents and caregivers still have to work and child care is expensive—the most vulnerable students have been left without food.
“Since the water has been out, we have seen a couple of more kids come than normal,” said Tara Lindsey, director of volunteer services at Stewpot Community Services, to WJTV. “Normally, they would be able to eat at school but the water is out and the schools are closed.”
“We had a family that came in and she wanted to wrap up her food to take home with her, and I gave them extra food for the night because I knew they needed it, and she was so grateful, but it just breaks your heart when you see kids that are hungry,” Lindsey said.
Enter Allison Washington, a Jacksonian by birth who has worked in government relations for more than seven years. Washington and Jackson-based attorney C.J. Lawrence partnered to start a GoFundMe for JPS students that has raised almost $7,000 of the original goal of $25,000.
“Being a mother is all the motivation that was needed,” Washington told The Root. “My maternal instinct immediately kicked in when I was informed that kids, JPS students in particular, were depending on local homeless shelters for meals. I voiced my concern on social media and from there, everything went into high gear.”
A growing army of community volunteers has organized to prepare lunches and deliver them to students without transportation.
While some in the community have accused the district of apathy or, at the very least, not being in tune with the specific needs of their students, Washington is focused on collaborating to do what’s best for students moving forward.
“I believe the district has more than enough on its plate,” Washington said. “My hope is to work closely with the district to face the issue of food security for Jackson’s youth and combat this issue head-on. I was grateful to see the district move into action by feeding families this past Saturday.”
Lawrence said that he was motivated to start the GoFundMe campaign out of necessity.
“While Allison and I were connected via Facebook, we had never met, but she shared what had been going on in Jackson with me,” Lawrence told The Root. “I felt compelled to get to work in any way that I could to assist in ensuring that young people would have access to food on days when they don’t have access to school breakfast and school lunch.
“We needed to be proactive in highlighting the food insecurity that students are facing, and address that issue in ways that will hopefully have a lasting impact,” Lawrence continued.
“This is an opportunity for us as the community, as the village, to step in and uplift these children,” Lawrence said. “This is something that I would like to see us continue to do to let our young people know we truly do care about them.”
Click the link below to support the campaign for Jackson youths affected by school closures.