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Manteca Unified health services challenge
Manteca Unified Health Services Director and Homeless Coordinator Caroline Thibodeau in a room at the district office complex that offers new clothing and hygiene products for homeless students. - photo by HIME ROMERO
It doesn’t take up much space but what is in the small room tucked inside the health services office at the Manteca Unified district office complex makes a big difference in the lives of 700 students.

The room contains new shoes, various articles of clothing, backpacks, and hygiene items ranging from shaving cream to toothpaste and deodorant among other things.

The needs of those 700 students are not far from the thoughts of Caroline Thibodeau as she goes about her job as Manteca Unified Director of Health Services. They are not simply from poor families. They are from poor families that are homeless.

That’s one out of every 33 Manteca Unified students that don’t have a home they can call their own. While some sleep on the street in cars, others sleep in motel rooms when their families can afford it, are at three homeless shelters that operate within the district, move with their families from homes of friends often daily sleeping on couches or on garage floors, living in tents or RVs or - in extreme cases - in encampments near the river.

The number has swelled as Manteca’s unemployment rate during the past six years doubled to 15.4 percent with Lathrop not far behind as well as Weston Ranch and French Camp.

“Most people would be shocked if they knew how many kids are homeless in our district,” said Thibodeau, who also handles the duties as the district’s homeless coordinator and foster care coordinator.

The need underscores how serious her staff takes their jobs noting that the school system is the only place - in many instances - where students have their health needs addressed or else get a decent meal.

It is one of the reasons why the school district institute breakfast programs.

“It is difficult for a child to pay attention in the classroom if all they can think about is how hungry they are,” Thibodeau said.

The room at the health services office was started in an attempt to address some of the basic needs that most kids take for granted. It is stocked through the efforts of Good Samaritans who regularly donate items such as personal hygiene items and new shoes.

When a homeless child is found to be in need of clothing and such at various school campuses, staff makes sure they make their way to the room at the district complex on Louise Avenue.

Clothing is just one of the homeless student issues that Thibodeau and her staff handle. They also work to make sure anything that poses a barrier to a homeless student being successful in school is addressed including immediate enrollment in school, transportation, food, medical care, and housing.  

The homeless children are in addition to 250 foster children that are enrolled in the district.

If you would like to help with items for the clothing room or to make a donation, contact Thibodeau at or call 858-0872.