P-Town Leaders member Patricia Lozano, WesternU executive assistant to the Chief of Community and Governmental Relations, assembled backpacks for homeless Pomona Unified School District students. Photo courtesy of Patricia Lozano.

The Pomona Unified School District (PUSD) has nearly 200 students who are homeless and on their own. This most vulnerable population’s situation is exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to the services PUSD provides these students, members of the Pomona Leadership Network (PLN) put together backpacks filled with food, clothing and other essentials to help them during this crisis. The PLN group, dubbed the P-Town Leaders, have collected donations and also bought supplies using their own money to fill the backpacks, which will be delivered to homeless students through the district beginning Monday, April 13.

The P-Town Leaders’ core focus is youth empowerment and development within the Pomona community. The group asked PUSD Superintendent Richard Martinez and Patti Azevedo, LMFT, Program Administrator for PUSD’s Student and Family Support Services, to identify students in need.

“After speaking to Richard and Patti as a team, we immediately decided to work on gathering supplies to fill backpacks for the unsheltered youth,” said P-Town Leaders member Patricia Lozano, WesternU executive assistant to the Chief of Community and Governmental Relations. “These backpacks are made with love, and we want the youth to know that we care and we are there for them.”

PUSD receives funding from the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act to support the education of homeless students, said Azevedo, who is the homeless liaison for the school district. The services are administered through PUSD’s Family Resource Center, which remains open during the COVID-19 pandemic and also services low-income families. The Family Resource Center provides students and their families basic necessities such as toothpaste and shampoo, and helps connect then to community services.

PUSD has nearly 3,000 students receiving assistance under the McKinney-Vento Act, including nearly 200 students who are unsheltered, unaccompanied youth, Azevedo said.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a surge in requests to the center, she said.

Backpacks given to PUSD students included food, a WesternU T-shirt, gift cards and other supplies. Photo courtesy of Patricia Lozano.

The week of March 16, 150 families came to the center asking for basic necessities. The following week, about 100 families came in, she said. This past week about 80 families came. Prior to this worldwide health crisis, PUSD would typically have about 20 families a week stop in for assistance, Azevedo said.

Homeless students have special food needs. Many of them do not have the means to boil water to cook pasta or rice, Azevedo said. She asked the P-Town Leaders to fill the backpacks with snacks nut and crackers, granola bars, juice boxes and water bottles.

“Being able to hand them food would be nice,” Azevedo said. “I think backpacks with those supplies in them would be very helpful.”

“On behalf of our Board of Education and the entire PUSD family, we would like to thank our members of the Pomona Leadership Network (P-Town Leaders) for caring and supporting one of our most vulnerable populations, our youth and families experiencing homelessness,” said PUSD Superintendent Richard Martinez.

The P-Town Leaders will continue to raise money to fill more backpacks for PUSD students, and will also look for other ways to help the community.

“Once we complete this project with PUSD, we will again touch base with Richard and Patti in case other needs develop, but we will also be reaching out to other entities and see what we may be able to do for them,” Lozano said. “We don’t know how long this crisis will last, but we hope to do our best as a team to help those who are less fortunate.”

To contribute to the P-Town Leaders’ backpack project, email the group at Ptownleaders7@gmail.com. The P-Town Leaders are: Patricia Lozano, Lauren Seganos Cohen, Lidia Manzanares, Lina Mira, Adriana Dale, Jerry Perez and Oscar De Leon.

For more information about how to help homeless students in the Pomona Unified School District, contact Patti Azevedo at 909-397-4491, Ext. 26594 or patricia.acevedo@pomona.k12.ca.us.