Parkrose High School is responsible for donating 500 pounds of clothing to Portland’s homeless population each year. This figure, from Parkrose High School’s Homeless Project, is more than a fun fact—for those living on the streets, a little can go a long way. A lot can go much further. But in November 2017, an additional population needed help: the students running the drive.
Zachary Melzer, Parkrose High School teacher and Parkrose local, came to the rescue. He started a GoFundMe page with a goal of collecting $1,000. In four months, he received nearly $300 over his asking price. “The GoFundMe was so successful from last year that it actually sets us up for this year,” says Melzer, speaking of the Project’s efforts in 2019.
According to the GoFundMe page, Melzer wanted his campaign to “not only help pay for activities and community building within the class but also help supplement supplies and missing hygiene products for our homeless project.”
Historically speaking, the Homeless Project sprang out of the Parkrose Alternative Center for Education, or PACE. PACE allowed for a program like the “school within a school” model, in which three teachers would teach smaller classes operating on a six-week rotation. It also called for night classes from 4 to 9 p.m. During the 2016–2017 academic year, the program was axed, leaving the Homeless Project orphaned. According to Melzer, the Homeless Project has been around for 35 years. “I never got a definitive reason [for why PACE ended], but we needed credit recovery during the day, and as always, budgets are tight in public education,” says Melzer. “I have been involved with [the Homeless Project] for the past three years, this year being my fourth year. I loved being a part of it when I was part of the PACE program, and I didn’t want it to die when the program went away.”
Melzer now runs a minimized PACE-inspired program for the high school called Parkrose Community. However, the Homeless Project is now supervised by another sympathetic Parkrose High after school club: the Parkrose High gay-straight alliance, also known as SPECTRUM.
“Not having a vehicle for student involvement, the club seemed excited in taking on the Homeless Project,” says Melzer, who mentors SPECTRUM. This year, SPECTRUM took control of the charity, which is promoted as a service learning opportunity.
SPECTRUM works alongside the Transitions Project, an organization that operates nine transitional facilities around Portland, as well as the Portland Rescue Mission. Each year, students from Parkrose High decorate Transitions locations and pass on its donations to the Portland Rescue Mission, which include clothing, towels, blankets and hygiene items. “We can also take monetary donations made to the school that are used to purchase lesser-donated supplies or other resources that help keep the project running. If people want to make their donations into this year’s project, we would need them by Dec. 7,” says Melzer.
While it’s still breathing, the Parkrose Homeless Project has seen a notable decrease in donations in recent years. “In the past, we have donated up to 400 hygiene packs but in the last few years we have been averaging 150 to 250,” says Melzer.
Despite the decrease, Melzer isn’t planning on starting a new GoFundMe page just yet. “I probably won’t run one this year, but I need to take that one down.”
If you wish to give to the Homeless Project, you can drop donations off at the front of Parkrose High School. To learn more about how to get involved, contact Melzer at firstname.lastname@example.org.