Inside L-S: Poverty proliferation poses new challenges to Pioneer community

In 2004, when today's seniors were in first grade, 10.2% of L-S students were eligible for free and reduced lunches. Last year, that number had more than doubled, up to 21.8%.

Two years ago, Ilse Medlock had a revelation; not all children have the same opportunities as hers, and that as a community, we should do something about it.
'If only I knew' is a common sentiment Medlock hears when discussing the need. People are willing -- even eager -- to help when they are aware that help is needed. For Medlock, founder and president of the L-S Community Closet, creating a sustainable way for the "community to help the community" has been a goal for the past two years.

Active in the PTO for years, Medlock itched for a higher purpose in life, and became aware of the extent to which there is need in the community through interactions with kids who live outside a "pocket neighborhood".

"I asked God for a purpose outside of myself, and I started noticing things," she says.

After meeting with Carole Reed, presently the President of the PTO at the high school and a longtime friend and colleague of Medlock's, the idea for the Community Closet was born.

Through corporate sponsorship from J.K. Mechanical, which helped the Community Closet register as a 501(c)3 charity, and support from Lampeter United Methodist Church, which provides the physical space -- a closet, in fact -- to house the clothing, the idea has spiraled into a reality.

Medlock credits Reed for emphasizing the importance that the idea remain simple, so it can be sustainable in the long term.

The Community Closet works with Ms. Michelle Holland, the school district's social worker, to meet needs support with food and clothing to helping out with bills in emergency situations, such as heating, water, and even an exterminator in one special case. It also has helped students take advantage of aspects of the district program they might otherwise not be able to afford, like playing a musical instrument or attending the Career and Technology Center (CTC).

"Some of our students are perfect candidates for CTC, but can't afford it," Medlock says.

A fundamental principle is that those who receive help remain anonymous, as do those who provide it. Holland facilitates much of the assistance, but even when the Community Closet has open houses for clothing donations, no parents of L-S students are present -- they are staffed entirely by retired volunteers -- to ensure that there is complete anonymity without even a possibility of judgment or feeling of shame.

A recent clothing drive held by the Community Closet at Martin Meylin.

"We want people to feel comfortable," says Medlock. "This is a very proud community, and not everyone will ask for help."

This fact leads Medlock to think that the number of children living in need is likely even higher than the 21.8% who receive assistance. Consequently, it is incumbent upon the Community Closet to make receiving help as easy and anonymous as possible, which is why the closet itself is open from 9 AM to 1 PM Monday through Friday, and there is no "audit" on what people take. Medlock trusts that people will not take more than they need.

The timeless African proverb 'It takes a village to raise a child' has become a motto of sorts for the Community Closet.

For Medlock, it's something even more simple.

"As a community, we should help each other."

For more information on the L-S Community Closet or to make a donation, please visit their website,, or find them on Facebook.

Editor's Note: This is the first installment in our series "Inside L-S: A changing landscape", which will analyze the demographic changes that have taken root in the District recently, and how they are affecting the community at large. See our Inside L-S page for more information.

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