Students in need in the Saugerties Central School District are finding help at SCORE (Saugerties Community Offering Resources for Everyone), a “free store” located at Saugerties High School where they can find a wide range of clothes, non-perishable foods and household and personal care items.
Founded by Saugerties High School (SHS) teacher Denyse Ortlieb and senior Marin Musgrave, who planted the roots for SCORE in a sociology class discussion about a similar store in a Chicago school. This September, Ortlieb brought up the idea with Musgrave, who plans to continue her education in college on a path toward becoming a social worker.
“We had talked a lot about wanting to do this project because (Ortlieb) thought it was really important that we had something like this in Saugerties,” Musgrave said. “So we kind of collaborated on what we thought we would have in it, the space that we would use for it. And then we had a meeting with the principal and the vice principal of our school and got it approved.
SCORE has served well over 100 students since opening on Tuesday, November 1 with an electronic ordering system that allows requests to remain anonymous. Students at Saugerties High register their interest with the same anonymous ID numbers they use for school breakfasts and lunch, and when they “shop” the store they do so behind a curtain with total privacy.
But SCORE is also open to elementary school students in the district as well.
“There’s a form on the district website for families in the elementary schools to fill out and request,” Ortlieb said. “We can’t really send them clothing items, but the food and cleaning items, they just put in the student ID number and they put in the items that they’re looking for. And then the students gather all the things together that they want, attach the ID number and the parent requests which building to have it sent to.”
To help preserve the dignity of students and families in need, Musgrave stressed that anonymity was the only way to make SCORE work as intended.
“For me that was like the biggest thing,” Musgrave said. “We really need to enforce the privacy of the students, and not just students but the families.”
Musgrave takes care of the SCORE inventory when no students are shopping, and other students help stock shelves and fill electronic orders. But when the store is open, it’s manned by staff members to ensure privacy.
Students are helping stock the shelves. Students are filling the electronic orders because they don’t know who they’re filling them for. But when the store is actually open, it’s only staff members in the rooms as to protect student privacy.
The store is stocked through donations, not only items physically sold, but also money to purchase wish list items that might appeal to kids. Ortlieb said the store opened with a $5,000 donation by Bob Siracusano of Sawyer Motors.
The SCORE inventory has adapted based upon requests and items that move more quickly.
“We have coats, jeans, sweaters, t-shirts and we’ve had students that actually they requested socks and underwear,” Ortlieb said. “Those were not things we initially were going to carry, but we’re actually having trouble keeping them in the store. And I can’t even tell you the number of shoes that have already gone out the door at this point as well.”
Requests for household items have also come as a surprise.
“We never expected that students were going to be asking us for sponges or all purpose cleaner or garbage bags,” Ortlieb said. “And honestly, we’re having trouble keeping that kind of stuff stocked. It’s unbelievable to us the things that students are looking for or are in need of that we had not even planned to have in the store.”
Ortlieb and Musgrave are also aware that there may be a greater need for certain items around holidays where students are away from class for an extended period of time, particularly those who rely on free or reduced breakfast and lunch on school days.
“We did have a pretty good amount of people come in around Thanksgiving,” Musgrave said, adding that they are preparing for breaks on the horizon as well. “It’s not just Christmas time. I also think (we will have greater demand) around spring break, and even Regents week because certain students have that week off. So I think even once it gets warmer we’ll also have an increase when it comes to clothing and stuff like that as well.”
But with Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa just around the corner, SCORE is planning on opening for weekend hours for the first time on Saturday, December 10 from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m.
“It may be an easier time for families to come in, and we might even have some different items then,” Ortlieb said. “There were some people that were donating stuffed animals and some toys that families can come take a look at.”
Musgrave said she hopes SCORE is here in Saugerties as long as there is a need for it.
“I definitely want this to continue long after I’ve graduated, and hopefully once I’ve graduated from college it’s still going,” she said. “I just think it’s a very looked over, the needs of our students that don’t have access to those things ,and maybe they don’t want to go to social workers and our school about this stuff. So I think it’s good to be able to provide them with this kind of resource that they don’t have anywhere else.”
District Superintendent Kirk Reinhardt said he was proud of the work Musgrave, Ortlieb and the staff and students involved with SCORE were doing.
“Anytime you bridge those gaps, you make a stronger school,” Reinhardt said, “The fact that they’re filling a basic need for a lot of our families is going to mean our students are going to come to school more comfortable. They may have the, the personal hygiene items they need, maybe boots, maybe a jacket, And if your basic needs are taken care of, then a learning is going to follow. But if you’re hungry and tired, it’s tough to learn. I think it’s just a wonderful marker on what a wonderful community Saugerties is.”
Ortlieb said community members can make financial donations to the SHS Key Club with SCORE in the memo line on personal checks. And other donations are welcome as well, though she acknowledged that it can sometimes be difficult to be certain what kids are looking for.
“It’s a little challenging because some people want to donate clothing, but the clothing they donate might not necessarily be things students will wear,” she said. “We’re more likely to say that if you have food items that you want to donate, the turnover on those is much greater.”
Ortlieb added that physical donations of everything from clothing to shoes, toiletries to non-perishable food and cleaning products can be dropped by the lobby of Saugerties High School.
Ortlieb added that she is grateful for those involved in helping SCORE be such a success, particularly the student she chose to help open its doors.
“I’m really proud of the role that Marin has played in this and her passion,” Ortlieb said. “She would like to be a social worker and it’s coming through with all that she’s doing with this. And I’m really proud of our staff and our school community that have absolutely volunteered their time and really put a lot of devotion into making this happen. It’s just great. And I really, I really pray that we’re making a difference in some of these kids’ lives.”
Students or families who would like to submit an electronic order form for free items ,or to find out when SCORE is open, visit the official SCSD website at: https://shs.saugerties.k12.ny.us/activities/the-free-store.