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Women of Woodbridge help 680 homeless students
Manteca Unifieds Director of Health Services Caroline Thibodeau, second from left, is pictured with Women of Woodbridge members, from left, Carole Pfoutz, club president Marybeth Saari, and Birdie Nieri. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

The Women of Woodbridge in Manteca has tripled their financial commitment to help the homeless students in the Manteca Unified School District.

Representatives of the group presented their $3,000 donation to the cause at the Tuesday night’s meeting of the district’s Board of Trustees. The amount was three times the amount that the Women of Woodbridge donated last year. Receiving the check donation was Director of Health Services Caroline Thibodeau who said that the money will be used to help the district’s homeless students who number about 680 students this year.

Students are classified as homeless if they have no permanent address. Many homeless families live in motels four or five nights a week and - when the money runs out - then in vehicles or in somebody’s front room. Others bounce from one place to another staying for a few days at a time so as not to create problems between renters and landlords. Some live at campsites.

The donation from the Women of Woodbridge came from the proceeds of various fund-raising events that they sponsor. Part of the money came from a drawing for a doll’s house made by Woodbridge at Del Webb resident Chuck Malley. The nonagenarian made the miniature structure by hand in his garage and then donated it to the group whose membership is comprised of women living at the age-exclusive residential development on North Union Road in Manteca.

The drawing was held during the group’s annual High Tea fund-raising event chaired by Birdie Nieri, with Carole Pfoutz serving as chairwoman of the doll-house raffle.

Thibodeau said cash donations are always a big help to the program which has been extending a helping hand to homeless students in the school district for the last 10 years. The program helps these students not only with school materials such as backpacks and notebooks but also clothing, shoes, hygiene items – “things that would help them be successful in school,” said Thibodeau.

While these material donations are always helpful, cash is always better because it allows them to purchase things that the students specifically need but may not be always available in their inventory of donated items. The money will also allow them to purchase new clothes for some of the children.

“A lot of kids just don’t get anything new. Literally, some of them have never had new things – clothes, and jackets for some of them. They always had hand-me-downs that somebody got from Goodwill for them,” Thibodeau said.

One child who received a new jacket was just “so excited,” she said. She recalled the child gushing, “I never had a new jacket.”

School supplies, clothing and footwear are not the only things given to the children. As the need arises, they are also given pillow cases which are useful for the kids who can use them “to carry their stuff sometimes – papers, crayons, scissors,” noted Thibodeau.

The program to help homeless students is not the only cause being supported by the Women of Woodbridge. Their other pet projects include Haven of Peace, a respite home for battered women and their children, Mary Graham which is a San Joaquin County program that helps youth, plus cash scholarships of $1,000 each to graduating seniors at East Union, Manteca High and Sierra High.

“It was the children that we were drawn to,” Saari said during an interview last year, explaining the reason behind the formation of the Women of Woodbridge. “We wanted a vehicle in which to do charity work and give back to the community, and we saw that the schools needed help.”

The women’s group is one of the very few organizations in Manteca – the Sunrise Kiwanis is another – that so far have been helping the homeless students program with cash donations.

“We don’t get a whole lot” of that from area organizations, Thibodeau said. “Occasionally, individuals will give us donations.”

In the last three years since the formation of the Women of Woodbridge, the group has made a number of contributions geared toward the betterment of area youth. One of their earliest philanthropic project involved Neil Hafley Elementary School. When the group learned that the Northgate Drive campus needed school supplies for its students, they responded with donations. In similar manner, they have reached out a helping hand to the young pregnant women and young mothers and their babies who are being served by the non-profit and all-volunteer Pregnancy Help Center in Manteca.

“We keep our eyes open for different groups that we can help and support, with the needs of children as the main criteria,” said another Women of Woodbridge member Jean Benner during an interview last year.