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Valley Journals

Gibs Kids: feeding and clothing students with the power of music

Oct 03, 2018 05:13PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Hoover Jam was just one of the groups that provided free entertainment for those who attended the event. (Bob Bedore/City Journals)

By Bob Bedore | bob@mycityjournals.com

According to a well-known candy bar commercial, “You’re not yourself when you’re hungry.” It’s played for laughs.

But for many children going to school each day in Utah schools (and across the country), it’s no laughing matter. They’re not themselves, and learning can be very difficult when you’re more concerned with hunger than school work. 

For Krista Gibbons, this simple fact hit her square in the face in her first year of teaching at West Jordan Middle School. 

“One of my students came in, very grumpy,” Gibbons said, recalling the first encounter with student hunger. “I asked him what was up, and after some prodding, he said that when he woke up he didn’t have time for breakfast. Later, I found out that he was homeless and had woken up from a tent and didn’t make it shelter in time for food. He had been having a very bad day.”

Gibbons went to her closet where she kept some granola bars and handed them to the boy. Then, when she went to the store she started to buy a few extra items and placing them in her closet. Word started to spread to the kids that needed it, and Krista said she was there for them. Soon the “closet” became a “pantry,” and more and more students came to rely on the Gibbon’s Pantry for food. 

Six years of this, and soon the pantry was helping around 300 kids at a personal expense of about $2,000 a year. “I just told myself, I don’t need to go to that movie, or I don’t need to buy this or that,” Gibbons said. “I can use that money for something better and really help these kids.” 

Things changed when one day she was talking to her friends Jolysa Sedgwick and Merri Golightly about her frustrations, and they jumped in immediately. Merri went and purchased a bunch of food to help her friend and fill the pantry for a few months, but Jolysa had a bigger vision, and Gibs Kids was born.

“We were doing backyard concerts for fun,” Jolysa said. “So, I started thinking that we could use them to let people know what was happening and try to get some more support.”

“Yeah,” chimed in Merri. “A lot of people really want to help, but they don’t know who needs the help or even how to help. With these concerts, we’re able to put some light to this cause, and it’s helped.”

Last year, they stepped it up and rented the outdoor events area at the Viridian Library and told everyone they could about it. “We wanted to have a no waste operation,” said Jolysa. “All the food for sale would be the kind that could go into the pantry if it wasn’t sold. It was pretty successful, so we’re trying to make it bigger and better every year.”

Groups have started to add on. LuLaRoe set up a little clothing store with 17 percent of every sale went to the cause. 

“I heard about this and just wanted to help,” said Safhama Horton, a representative of the company. “I called them up and asked if we could help donate and immediate agreed. I just was so grateful. I just kept thinking, what if these were my kids going to school hungry?”

“It started to spread through my school, and soon other teachers started to have their own pantries,” Gibbons said. “We also host after school programs for kids that find it’s better to stay at school for a while instead of going home right away.”

This type of attention has paid off for West Jordan Middle School. The children trust their teachers more and open up about things that might have gone unnoticed. 

“There is a lot of gang activity around our school,” Gibbons said. “And they’re reaching out to these kids to recruit them. I’ve asked my students, ‘What are they offering you?’ and they answer, ‘the security, the food,’ and I let them know that I can offer that right here. I’ve been able to steer some kids away from those negative influences through my pantry.”

Gibbons has other similar experiences.

“I’ve had kids opened up to me, some very heart-wrenching stories of different types of abuses and other hardships, all because they trusted me and knew that I was doing everything I could to help them and show them love,” Gibbons said. “The impact of this goes such a long way. You don’t even know. Sometimes kids come from such harsh worlds, just knowing that someone they don’t even know cares about them. It really makes a difference.”

Gibbons is not the only teacher helping kids in this manner. Many schools offer similar programs. And each of them is helping to provide hope. School district officials are also addressing these needs, but the need is often more than the districts can provide. That is why these programs are so important. 

“We do have the Principal’s Pantry that the district helps with,” Gibbons said. “That has helped with food and some other products that the kids needed. But it wasn’t doing enough, so we started getting more items and even some backpacks filled with supplies for some of our homeless kids.”

The evening featured performances from bands such as Hoover Jam and Moose, as well as Jolysa’s own group, The Sedgwick Family, and a dance number from some of the “Gibs Kids.” Little Caesar’s donated some food, and there was a raffle with great prizes including entertainment packages from Off Broadway Theater and even a 30-minute ride in KSL’s Chopper 5. All in all the evening was a great success. Official numbers were not available, but the event was closing in on $2,000 about midway through the evening. 

Those who would like to help can do so in many ways. You can donate directly through Venmo (@GibsKids) or by going to the Jordan Education Foundation website (jourdaneducationfoundation.org), though it’s hard to make sure that your donation goes directly into the Lion Pantry (the one set up for West Jordan Middle School). You can also drop off non-perishable food donations at the school. Just tell them that it is for Gib’s Kids.

Helping out displays the message that Krista is trying to leave with “her babies.”

“These kids come from such hard worlds that they don’t believe that anyone will ever treat them kindly or give them a fair shake,” Gibbons said. “This shows them that people care. The world is a good place. And it makes them want to be better. I’ve seen them become more civic minded. I’ve seen them trying to make a difference, and that gives me hope.”