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(Many Paths)
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Bear Necessities Offers Supplies To At-Risk Tahlequah Students During Walkout
by Brittney Bennett - Cherokee Phoenix reporter
Cherokee Nation citizen Danielle McGavock stands next to boxes containing food and hygiene items that were collected through the Bear Necessities Coalition. The coalition will distribute 500 care packages to at-risk students who attend Tahlequah Public Schools during the anticipated Oklahoma teacher walkout on April 2. (photo by Brittney Bennett - Cherokee Phoenix)

The Bear Necessities Coalition received donations of canned goods, pudding and nuts from individuals and area businesses, but was still in need of non-perishable food items such as pop-top entrees. (photo by Brittney Bennett - Cherokee Phoenix)
In addition to food, the Bear Necessities Coalition is also collecting hygiene items such as deodorant, tampons and wet wipes for students during the April 2 teacher walkout. Items can be dropped off through March 29 at the Bank of Cherokee County, Mark Hodson State Farm and Chili's in Tahlequah. (photo by Brittney Bennett - Cherokee Phoenix)

Tahlequah, OK – Tahlequah Public Schools students who are at risk of hunger during an anticipated Oklahoma teacher walkout on April 2 will have a container filled with a week's worth of food and hygiene supplies thanks to the Bear Necessities Coalition.

"There's a group of us, moms who have children in Tahlequah Public Schools system, and once we heard about the possible school suspension in April, we were just wanting to support our schools and our children here," Danielle McGavock, Cherokee Nation citizen and coalition organizer, said.

McGavock is one of several organizers for the group, which stemmed from a discussion with her friend, Nicki Scott, about what parents could do ahead of the walkout.

The coalition reached out to TPS, which had teachers confidentially identify students who could benefit who were not already enrolled in the school's Backpack Program. Teachers identified 500 students, who were then given a voucher with details on pickup times and locations.

Numbers obtained from the coalition detail that of the 3,574 students attending TPS, more than 2,300 receive free or reduced meals. Additionally, more than 2,000 students identify as Native American, a fact that weighs heavily on McGavock.

"We don't know who the students are. We don't know any of the information about the students, but some are probably Cherokee," McGavock said. "I feel like, the Cherokee people, we're a family and we're to take care of each other, and I think that's why my heart is for this. Also, three of our children are adopted, and these (students) could be my babies. These could be my children in school possibly, not having what they need."

McGavock said she also has friends who teach and knew their concerns about the walkout.
"We have a lot of friends who are teachers, and they fight and do everything they can for our children, and so one of the big concerns they had was 'how are our children going to eat?' if they do this. Basically, how are their babies going to eat while they're doing this walkout to stand up for them," McGavock said. "They're momma bears to 20-something kids everyday, and they make sure that their needs are met and they're cared for outside of trying to educate them."

McGavock said the coalition's efforts help take the "burden" off teachers. "They are very thankful that their little cubs will be taken care of, so to speak, during that time that they are fighting for them. They're doing this all for the children so we are happy to assist them."

If the Oklahoma Legislature reaches an agreement to fund teacher raises and the walkout is suspended, McGavock said the supplies would be donated to the Backpack Program. However, according to an Associated Press story, the leader of the state's largest teacher's union said the April 2 walkout over low pay and funding for schools could end up being more of a one-day celebration if lawmakers can approve a deal.

"Teachers will be here on April 2," Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest sad. "They may be saying 'thank you.'"

While the issue of a teacher walkout has divided some people, McGavock said she's seen the ability of the Tahlequah community to come together and support students.

"A lot of my friends and family are one side or the other, but one thing that we can all agree on is our kids," she said. "No matter if you're for it or against it, we all agree our kids need to be provided for and loved on and taken care of. I think that's where the community comes in and puts aside its differences."

The Bear Necessities Coalition is still in need of non-perishable, pop-top food items and hygiene items, including deodorant, tampons and wet wipes. Items can be dropped off through March 29 at the Bank of Cherokee County, Mark Hodson State Farm and Chili's in Tahlequah.

The group is also accepting donations and asking for volunteers to pack bags on March 30 and work at distribution sites on March 31. Those interested are encouraged to message the "Bear Necessities Coalition" page on Facebook or call 918-257-6243.

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