A crowd of 30 people gathered at Venable Elementary School Wednesday morning for the launch of a new program called EdZone at Charlottesville City Schools with the Chris Long Foundation.
The program provides essential items, like soap and socks, to students at all six of the city’s elementary schools. Students can access the supplies discreetly through closets in the schools, or teachers can send students or families home with the items they need.
“The most important city in the world to me is Charlottesville,” said Chris Long, the foundation’s founder who was on the University of Virginia’s football team before playing for the St. Louis Rams, New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles. “I want every kid to have an opportunity to learn in this city.”
The school division thinks that having these supplies on hand for students will enable them to learn.
“This ensures that students have their essential needs met to be successful,” said superintendent Royal Gurley.
Others agreed, saying that the program demonstrates a commitment to Charlottesville students.
“This is heart work,” said Bianca Johnson, Charlottesville City Schools’ family engagement coordinator. “This is boots on the ground work that’s directly impacting the students that we serve every day.”
Johnson estimates that between 50 and 70 students access the closet at Venable, and roughly 300 kids across the elementary schools in the division take advantage of the supplies.
For Long, sending kids to school when they don’t have a winter hat to keep warm or an umbrella to stay dry is akin to sending a football player onto the field without cleats or pads.
“You wouldn’t be able to go out there and believe that you can make any play on the field. You guys can be anything you want to be here at school,” Long said.
Jah’kavius Rawlings, a fourth grader at Venable, was almost as excited about the EdZone closets as he was about the opportunity to meet Long.
“I feel good about [them], because some people don’t have money,” Jah’kavius said. He planned to tell his friends about the supplies available to them.
Getting the closets set up was a process that took more than a year of working with donors and schools. Long said that the opening happened sooner than he expected, and the hard work was worth it for a cause he holds dear.
“As a kid that had everything growing up, as a student, I was still terrified,” Long said. “Every day is a bit of a struggle for some kids, and having these closets is going to give them the basic dignity and functionality that maybe they didn’t have.”