Seventy-nine neighborhoods across the Greater Atlanta region are among the most in need and also are in a state of declining child well-being, compared to just a few years ago, according to The United Way of Greater Atlanta.
The Dorm Parents Program
Dorm Parents is a pilot program that serves the Carver Cluster, according to Collier. She also started the Collier Community food bank five years ago, which serves Butts, Pike, Clayton, Spalding, and surrounding South Atlanta Metro area counties.
Collier said she created the program because she had three kids go to college and they didn’t have anything.
“I literally cried when Nancy [her daughter] left. She didn’t have anything and I’m like, ‘can we just wait the next four’, she said, ‘no mom, I’m not waiting, I’m leaving’ and she did,” Collier said. “My children left going to college with nothing and that’s where all of this came from. I didn’t want any parent to feel how I felt in that moment and wanted to make sure they got that.”
With the help of others, Collier was able to assist three of her children in getting college degrees. Due to this and remembering what it was like to struggle as a single parent, Collier said she had a God-given desire to assist other college students.
While starting off as a program to help supply the necessary toiletries to college students in need, the financial burden of fuel for vans as well as workers became too great for her to carry alone.
“I’ve traveled to various colleges delivering these items at no charge to the students or school. The financial burden became too great for me alone, and as a result, I was not able to continue serving the colleges,” she said.
Fortunately, the passion and drive still runs through Collier’s heart, as she is now serving middle and elementary school teachers, scholars, and school communities to meet the need. As a result, teachers in the schools serviced by Dorm Parents, receive a $25 Dorm Parent gift certificate every month of service.
Dorm Parent Program Assitant Debra Parks said the importance of the program and the GoFundMe is to be able to supply items like toiletries, food items, nonpersishable items, and school supplies to children and parents that are in need.
“Even down to personal items like underwear, socks, T-shirts, things of that nature, because there is apparently a need for it and there’s a lot of kids that do go without. We’re here to meet that need,” Parks said.
Parks also said being in the community and aware of children and parents not having basic items is when they decided to do something about the issue and help.
“After COVID, people are still struggling with things. Ms. Collier has a heart of gold and a desire to
always help people,” Parks said. “She’s always there and initially, she started helping college students because that’s a real struggle. Aiding them, unfortunately, is extremely pricey and expensive, but she didn’t want to stop, so she transferred to helping elementary school, middle schools and even high schools, just doing what she can to meet the need.”
William M. Finch Elementary School Social Worker (Atlanta Public Schools) Tamisha-Brothers Bembry said many times when she gives kids snacks after they come to school late, they’re still hungry.
“A lot of times in the morning, I’m bringing a group of kids down to get breakfast bars, cereal, and other stuff, because they’ll come in late after we serve breakfast, but they’re still hungry,” Bembry said. “So, what Dorm Parents has done is bridge the gap by providing these items, we can feed our kids in the morning and then send them to class, because I don’t know about you, but when I come to work hungry, ain’t nothing going down.”
Parks said many of the schools they’re supplying items to, they will send students home with supplies on the weekends or during long breaks.
“There are kids that will come in needing a bath, no socks, and people aren’t aware this is happening,” Parks said. “There are families that are still struggling and still in need and that’s what we’re doing, we’re trying to meet that need. But to continue this, we welcome donations from anybody because there is a cost involved.”
Bembry said she is forever grateful to Dorm Parents for helping her school.
“I’m thankful doesn’t even begin to describe it. Before Dorm Parents joined us this year, we had a few cans here and there, a couple of items here and there, but we had such a great need for more supplies,” she said.
Bembry also said it’s important to make sure families have what they need.
“I have kindergartners, third, fourth, fifth grade kids coming in saying, ‘Hey, Ms. Bembry, can I come in your pantry and get some socks or in the morning time?’, their family doesn’t have food at home, so they’re coming hungry,” she said. “A lot of times our kids come late, so I’m able to walk them in here, see their faces brighten up, and they’re able to get items they would pick for themselves.”
Additionally, Bembry said because of Dorm Parents, the school is able to send food bags home with students on the weekends.
“A lot of times we have a whole week break coming up, so what we’re going to do is have our kids come in and they’ll be able to pick their own snacks and items,” she said. “We try to send them home with a breakfast, something quick for lunch, like a Velveeta or some mashed potatoes or some soup and then some drinks, something quick. A lot of our students can make them themselves or feed themselves. It’s definitely changed the fabric of how we serve our families.”
What are Dorm Parents Seeking?
As to what Dorm Parents are seeking from the community, Collier said they need a van and if possible, more in the future.
Items in the pantry are donated, but Collier has trucks transport the donations to schools, which Collier must pay the drivers.
This is where the GoFundMe kicks in. Funds will be used to purchase additional vans to transport items to the schools, fuel for vans, payment for distribution employees, and cost for storage to maintain the items and supplies for the Dorm Parents Program for the 2023-2024 academic school year.
“I have to pay so much money to this guy who transports the supplies from the warehouse where we live and brings it to the schools here,” she said. “It becomes a lot when you add gas and transporting back and forth from Pike County to Fulton and the surrounding areas.”
Parks said if they have a van, or vans, they can reach more people and schools.
“We’re just scratching the surface and we’ve certainly supplied some of the schools here in Atlanta, like Macon, Spalding, and Pike, where we live. The need is still great, and it just takes money to get out to the people, to get the items and stuff to do so,” she said.
Collier also said she would like to have all the schools she works with to be fully stocked and in the next couple of years, she wants to have at least a 30,000 square foot warehouse in the Atlanta area stocked with supplies.
“Both of the warehouses I have are in South Georgia where I live, but I would love to have one up here in the Atlanta area so people can come and shop in, this would also help with gas, staffing, and everything else,” she said.
Additionally, Collier said she is looking for a grant writer, so she can apply for one to help the program’s funding.
Bembry said one of the things they have been strategizing is getting a warehouse in Atlanta because Collier and Parks live in Pike County, which is a journey to travel back and forth to.
To donate to the Dorm Parent program, visit https://shorturl.at/sHP56. The donation goal is $50,000. As of Oct. 7, the GoFundMe page is at $235 (six donations).
Additionally, to view testimonials and clips from recent donations, visit their facebook page https://www.facebook.com/thedormparent.