Gibsonton Elementary has installed many programs to help its students and the community since being identified as a community school earlier this year. One of the programs is a Little Free Library open to the public at the front of the school.

The staff at Gibsonton Elementary has been working hard this year to shift the balance for their students. What started when Gibsonton was identified as a community school in the spring has led to many new programs to help students and their families, from a food pantry to a Little Free Library.

According to Catherine Gilmore, community school resource coordinator, Gibsonton is one of six community schools in Hillsborough County.

“A community school is a school focused on bringing equality to not only the school, but the community,” said Gilmore. “Many of our students are not given the access and opportunity that other communities are offered. In Gibsonton, we find ourselves working to shift the balance. We want to promote ways in which students and families can find positive growth and success.”

In order to find out where to start, Gilmore and other staff members are using a Listening Project where they survey and interview parents, students, staff and community members to identify what aspects of the community they feel are working, what is missing and to develop a vision for the future.

“We want to make sure we are finding the right resources that fit our specific needs,” she said. “Our goal is to transform Gibsonton.”

One of the most important ways the staff is helping is by providing food. The school has had a Feed the Bay-funded weekend backpack program in partnership with Mosaic and the Kiwanis Club for seven years, serving 75 students a week with single-serve and child-friendly foods to meet their nutritional needs. But this year, Gibsonton opened a food pantry thanks to help from Publix.

“As the weeks continue, the families are learning that the pantry is open every week on Fridays from 2-4 p.m. and that we are excited to see them,” said Gilmore. “Last week, we served 34 families, and believe strongly that our outreach is going to continue. Any family whose student attends Gibsonton is encouraged to come.”

Students are also welcome to pick clothes from the school’s newly developed Clothing Closet.

“Our Clothing Closet is an effort to help students who come to school without proper fitting clothing or who have accidents during the day,” said Gilmore. “In some cases, students need clean clothes because they come to school with unwashed clothing.”

The closet is supported by donations from the community and is always in need of clothing for students from size four to youth medium, especially jackets and shoes.

“We give an average of four pairs of shoes a week for our needy students,” said Gilmore, who came to the school five years ago to teach special education and took over her current position when Gibsonton was identified as a community school.

Gilmore also helped install a Little Free Library at the front of the school to improve access to literacy within the community.

“We make sure we give a large number of books to ensure the community has a variety of choices,” said Gilmore. “It is not just available to students, the community can access it by coming to the front of the school.”

Gibsonton Elementary’s programs are supported by the School District of Hillsborough County, the teacher’s union (HCTA) and community partners, but volunteers are always needed.

“We are always looking for partners, community members and volunteers to support our students and families,” said Gilmore. “If anyone is interested in volunteering, we would welcome the support. Our goal is to see everyone succeed.”

To learn more about Gibsonton Elementary, located at 7723 Gibsonton Dr., call 671-5100. For anyone looking to help, Gilmore can be reached at Catherine.Gilmore@sdhc.k12.fl.us.