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Saugerties Student-Teacher Duo Start Free Store to Meet Student Needs

Ortlieb first came up with the idea of the store last year, when she read about a school in Chicago that was making headlines for helping students in need through its newly created free store. That article became part of a classroom discussion in Ortlieb’s Sociology class, where Musgrave was a student. Ortlieb thought that Saugerties could benefit from something like this, but knew that she couldn’t create it all on her own.

Ortlieb reached out to Musgrave, a hardworking student who has a heart of gold, to see if she would be interested in helping create the first “Free Store” at Saugerties. Musgrave was a little apprehensive, but after many conversations, she agreed, and this venture has become a passion project. “Knowing how much work was going to be involved, I didn’t want to do it, if it wasn’t going to be done right,” Musgrave admitted. “I didn’t want anyone to say, ‘Well, that was a big failure.’”

In addition, Musgrave wondered if there truly was a need for such a store. She originally thought that there would be maybe 10 or so people in the District who would need something like this. She was wrong, however. Ortlieb said that since the store opened on November 1, 65 students have come through its doors. 

Musgrave has come to realize that, “People really don’t know what other people are going through. I think food insecurity is really under-recognized in many communities.”

The school’s free store is different from a food bank because it really is geared towards students. “It was important to us that we had items students like,” Musgrave said. As part of her research, Musgrave surveyed fellow students to find out what types of items they would like to see in the store. The results of the survey helped the store decide what to stock their shelves with. “It feels good to know that students are getting an opportunity to pick out items they enjoy eating, like mac and cheese, Pop-tarts, or ramen noodles,” Musgrave explained. “Times are tough, and many families are struggling to put food on the table, and ‘fun’ items that students like to eat don’t often make it onto the grocery list.”   

The items in the store were purchased through monetary donations, with additional items being provided through a “necessities drive” held at the beginning of the school year. Musgrave and student volunteers help to stock the shelves.

While the majority of the work involves keeping the shelves well-stocked, there is a bigger challenge: convincing students who need items to go and visit the store. “We know that if a student is hungry, academics will be the last thing on their mind,” said Ortlieb. She is hoping the electronic ordering form will make it easier to serve more students. “The store is vital to ensuring that every student has the best opportunity to be successful,” she declared.

It is important to Musgrave that students feel comfortable while shopping for items. She wants it to be a judgment-free zone. Therefore, students do not run the store. Instead, it is run after school by staff and teachers who volunteer their time. 

Musgrave said that this project has helped her solidify her aspirations to study social work after graduating from high school. She will also be using this experience to apply for the Seal of Civic Readiness, a fairly new initiative supported by the New York State Department of Education. In order to earn a civics seal, one must identify a civic issue, analyze the issue, design and execute a solution to the problem, reflect on what they have learned, and make a presentation. If Musgrave completes everything for this project, she will be the first person from Saugerties to receive this seal at graduation.

“I’ve learned a great deal about myself through this project,” Musgrave said. “I’m a pretty quiet person who doesn’t like to do things outside of my comfort zone. But since the start of this project, I’ve learned I have a voice, that staying in your comfort zone is not very challenging or exciting, and it feels really good to help others, even if I don’t know who they are.

So as not to let this grassroots effort die, Musgrave is already planning to help mentor her replacement for next year. “My hope is that the free store will be around for as long as people need it.”

If you’d like to support the on-campus free store, you can reach out to Denyse Ortlieb at dortlieb@saugerties.k12.ny.us.

For students or families who would like to submit an electronic order form for free items or to find out when the store is open, please visit the website at: https://shs.saugerties.k12.ny.us/activities/the-free-store   

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