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Homer Davis Project marks decade of outreach

Homer Davis Project volunteers from Roche Tissue Diagnostics wrapped gift boxes so that each child in the food program receives one on their birthday. (Homer Davis Elementary School)

Students, parents, volunteers, faculty and staff, sponsors, and friends will gather in March to celebrate 10 years of “Making a Difference Every Day: The Homer Davis Project.” The project is a collaboration of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona’s Jewish Community Relations Council, the Jewish community, and Tucson corporate partners and volunteers.

Ten years ago, JCRC adopted Homer Davis Elementary School in Flowing Wells School District. At the time, 87 percent of its students were receiving free or reduced-cost meals, a common measure of poverty in the education system. In Tucson, 24 percent of children live below the poverty level, according to American Community Survey estimates.

The program primarily helps with “hunger and homework with a heart,” says Mary Ellen Loebl, project coordinator for the past nine years. It provides about 30 volunteers to the school on a regular basis to help after school with homework, as designated in-classroom assistants focused on improving reading skills, and to pack food bags. Other volunteer projects have created a community garden, refreshed outdoor landscapes, and created murals. There are ongoing drives and additional support for school supplies, toiletries, teacher materials, individual snacks, and for every student, spirit shirts and backpacks. Many of the 100 volunteers over the years remain with the program today, but the volunteer level far exceeds the century mark. “It would be in the thousands if we counted everyone who contributed to all the food and supply drives,” says Loebl.

“We started out by providing weekend food packs for 20 students,” she says. These food packs supplement the students’ nutrition over the weekends, on school holiday breaks, and during summer school. “Now, we are serving nearly 100 students in so many more ways,” Loebl says. Over the course of the program, more than 27,000 students have been touched with generosity. The Arizona Education Association Foundation recognized the program with a “Partners in Education Award” in 2018.

Local community and business supporters including Truly Nolen Pest Control, Wells Fargo, National Bank of Arizona, and the Hopper Family Foundation provide grants and funds. The program invests up to $30,000 annually on food, in collaboration with the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. Roche Tissue Diagnostics staff, other groups and individuals provide volunteers to help package and deliver food. The greater Jewish community also is committed to Homer Davis with select congregations providing food for and packing the holiday boxes.

The celebration event will focus on three areas, says Loebl. A nutritionist will address healthful eating; local children’s book illustrator Michelle Shapiro will lead an activity; and participants will plant seedlings for the community garden. Homer Davis Principal Lyle Dunbar will be the keynote speaker.

“The JFSA is a wonderful partner,” says Dunbar. “They are truly committed to the success of our students and community here at Homer Davis. Their commitment to the well-being of our students’ physical and psychological needs is incredible. I make one phone call to Mary Ellen and the JFSA comes to the rescue. I appreciate all they do for us.”

The 10th Anniversary Celebration will be Sunday, March 31 at 2:30 p.m. at the Harvey and Deanna Evenchik Center for Jewish Philanthropy, 3718 E. River Road. For information or reservations go to www.jfsa.org/homerdaviscelebration2019 or email [email protected]