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Finding the best bang for donated bucks to help as many needy students as possible
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A lot of the items in the various clothes closets in Manteca Unified come from donation drives that involve the students and their families.

“November is Homeless Awareness Month, and that’s when we do the drives,” said Lynda Donaldson who works in the district’s program for homeless students.

Her position, though, is not one that was funded as a result of the federal mandate of 2001 called Education Assistance Act which requires liaisons in every school to work with homeless students. Her job is funded by a grant that is running out at the end of this month. The district has applied for another grant that would allow her to continue what she has been doing in the last few years.

Health Services Director Caroline Thibodeau, so far, has been lucky in the implementation of an unfunded program in that there are many helpful and generous people around. Among them is Donaldson’s own daughter, Tina. In Donaldson’s own words, her daughter is “the Coupon Queen.”

Donaldson herself is good at getting the best bang for a buck, but she capitulates to her daughter’s better-bargain sense. And that’s not because Tina works at Costco. She simply has the innate knack of stretching a buck for more than it’s worth in terms of its purchase power. Coupon shopping is her special talent, said a proud Donaldson who formerly worked for the Manteca Police Department. She is still active in the department as a reserve officer.

Thibodeau is also impressed with what the mother-daughter coupon shopping team can do.

“They take $500 and come back with $5,000 worth of things. They’re such good shoppers. They’re very good at it,” said Thibodeau.

That’s how they buy the shoes and other things that they stock up so that when the students come in for things that they need, they have them in stock, she said.

“We don’t take them shopping per se,” she added.

Several people in her office actually are also good coupon-shoppers, like her secretary, who help in the effort, she said.

With cash donations barely trickling in – “we don’t get a whole lot,” said Thibodeau – they have to be creative shoppers with the little cash they receive from generous individuals and groups. The two groups that have stepped forward by faithfully donating money every year are the Women of Woodbridge at Del Webb in Manteca, and the Morning Kiwanis.

The money is not solely spent for shopping clothes and school materials. Part of the donations that they received this year from the Women of Woodbridge, for example, was used to buy graduation outfits for four high school seniors who “had no way to purchase” graduation clothes.

Gift cards or certificates also are just as good as cash and will go a long way in helping the needy children.

“Gift cards – that’s the thing that kept us going this year,” Thibodeau said.

These are given to the “unaccompanied youth,” which is another category under homeless students in the program. They don’t want to give them money for obvious reasons, so instead they give them gift cards for food places like McDonald’s or Subway.

Then there are individual professionals in the community, like Dr. Mohammad El Farra, a pediatric dentist at Valley Oak Dental Group in Manteca, who provided “extensive” dental work for three of the homeless kids free of charge.

For more information on how to help the program for homeless students in the school district’s Health Services, call (209) 858-0788.