Westerville Bridges is helping expand personal-care item pantries to include all 23 schools in Westerville, directly assisting more than 2,500 students.

Rick Bannister, CEO and founder of Neighborhood Bridges, said Westerville South High School teachers partnered with Neighborhood Bridges last school year to put baskets of personal-care items on teachers' desks with a placard inviting students to take what they need.

"This program is used to help identify students at risk and get them to our full pantry for assistance," he said. "This school year we are also expanding this program to all of our high schools and middle schools in Westerville."

A personal-care item drive runs through Friday, Sept. 6, but Westerville South social worker Noelle Spriestersbach said the school always is looking for donations of granola bars, beef jerky and bath and body lotions for students in need.

She said monetary donations would help the Wildcat Den buy needed items in bulk, or donations can be dropped at the school office, 303 S. Otterbein Ave.

Bannister said this is the first year Neighborhood Bridges is expanding its reach with the personal-care pantries in all schools, and this marks the third year of offering personal-care items and undergarments.

The personal-care pantries offer deodorant, soap, body wash, shampoo, tooth brushes, tooth paste, feminine hygiene products, belts, combs and brushes.

Bannister said new packs of underwear and socks are being collected as follows:

* Those with a last name starting with A-F are asked to donate young girls sizes, small, medium, large and extra-large.

* Those with a last name starting with G-L, female sizes small, medium, large and extra-large.

* Those with a last name starting with M-R, boys sizes small, medium, large and extra-large.

* Those with a last name starting with S-Z, young men's sizes small, medium, large and extra-large.

Items can be dropped off at Roush Honda, 100 W Schrock Road; Westerville Division of Fire Station 111, 400 W. Main St.; or April Schaad State Farm Insurance, 309 S. State St.

Spriestersbach said all South teachers have personal-care baskets in their rooms on a "take what you need, give what you can" basis.

Before Neighborhood Bridges, Spriestersbach said, South teachers and staff provided items for students in need.

"When Neighborhood Bridges started, it really took off," she said.

Spriestersbach said more than 350 South students used the Wildcat Den last year, reaching those who needed more than just borrowing a pencil.

She said she sees many instances when a family's finances are tight for a period of time, then they recover.

"I was working with a family last week and the dad lost his job," Spriestersbach said. "He has a month and a half before he starts another job. Some students also have parents with seasonal work."

She said the Wildcat Den is open to any South student and provides hygiene products, school supplies, coats and gloves, clothing, undergarments and shoes.

Spriestersbach said parent volunteer Susan Llaneza did an incredible job of re-organizing and painting the Wildcat Den this spring.

"Our students and staff have had such a positive reaction to the Den and that is 100% thanks to Susan's time and hard work," she said. "We're glad to be able to support our students who have needs. Often students will bring other students who know about home situations before, we as a school, know in an official capacity."

Bannister said Neighborhood Bridges, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization launched in January 2017, will have personal-care pantries in 54 schools in Westerville, Gahanna, Worthington, Dublin and Hilliard.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla