MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WTVF) — Rutherford County Schools' ATLAS Program, which helps students who are experiencing homelessness, has seen a major increase in need this school year because of COVID-19.
The program helps provide food, warm clothes and transportation to students and their families, and also offers resources that can help the families get into stable housing.
"This morning we just got a call from a family that was living in their van and needing to be enrolled in school and just needing shelter," program liaison Jessica Johnson said, adding that this school year those calls have become more common. "We are increasing every week in our numbers, it is not plateauing."
The pandemic has also changed the types of donations the program is looking for. Since students are spending more time outside when they are at school, they need more hats, gloves and other winter clothes.
"We cannot put multiple classrooms in one gym for PE or recess, so now we're outside using the track longer and utilizing the playground longer," Johnson explained. "So we don't just need coats we need hats we need gloves, we need scarves, we just need more things."
Identifying students who need that help is another added challenge created by the virus.
"When you're only seeing them virtually, you're not seeing that need," Johnson said. "It is more challenging. You're not seeing that maybe they're wearing that same outfit every day, that they're not wearing that jacket that you know they need."
A growing need that Johnson thinks will continue for several school years to come.