“I took groceries and toilet paper to a family in need and the little boy got excited because they had toilet paper, and I think sometimes we really truly don’t appreciate what we have until we see a family that is in need.”
Lori Brane, social services specialist at Allen Elementary, works not only to serve each student at the school, but each family.
Brane started at Allen in 2005 after working as a school social worker in Blackford County, Ind. Before that, she worked as a social worker at Rolling Meadows Health Care in LaFontaine, Ind. and also as the victim advocate in Grant County for nine years.
As a social services specialist, Brane helps kids get through the school day however they need it, whether it’s academic help or dealing with behavioral or family issues. Brane says she sees students both regularly as well as those referred to by teachers, principals and even parents.
“There’s really no two days alike in school social work,” Brane says.
In addition to helping kids within the walls of the school, Brane visits and checks up on Allen families at their homes to see what they need, even if it isn’t school related.
“If a family would need assistance, if they need me to deliver food or some other situation, yeah, I could, that’s no problem working,” Brane says. “You don’t really have set hours. You just work till the job is done.”
More than 90 percent of the kids at Allen have free or reduced lunches, the highest amount among Marion Community Schools. Allen is near the corner of Pennsylvania and Bradford Streets, and the elementary school draws down the east side of Marion, even to 38th Street.
“We see more and more families with drug abuse, we see a high need of families who maybe aren’t going down the right path; the parents aren’t making maybe the best of choices,” Brane says.
Because of the need, Brane decided to create a food pantry and clothing closet last school year for any Allen family that needs assistance. She discovered that some local food agencies don’t allow people to get food more than once every 30 or even 60 days.
Brenda McVicker is the Director of Elementary Education for Marion Community Schools and has worked closely with Allen Elementary. McVicker says Brane doesn’t tell anyone what she’s doing at Allen, she just does it.“So I thought, ‘That would be nice to help bridge that gap because sometimes you need weekly items too.’”
“She goes over and above what you would expect normal school personnel to do,” McVicker says. “And she just doesn’t think anything about it.”
But Brane doesn’t put together the food pantry and clothing closet on her own. Unity Christian Church helps Brane with food. The church and then Via Credit Union and Hanfield United Methodist Church also donate clothes.
Since Marion schools has a uniform policy, Brane says families usually need the most help with this type of clothing. She says pants usually cost about $15 and shirts are $10. Whatever a student needs, Brane wants to help out however she can.
“Even if a child comes to school and says, ‘We don’t have any food at home,’ and I can’t get a hold of the parent, I’ll still send a backpack of groceries home and try to check in with the parent later,” Brane says.
McVicker says she’s heard countless stories from Allen faculty and around the district about what Brane does for the school, the only school with a food pantry in Marion.
“What’s so unique about her is she knows every student,” McVicker says. “And not only every student, but every family at Allen. And so she does everything that she can do to support those families not just academically but also emotionally [and] socially.”
In particular, McVicker says for last Christmas, Brane bought presents for an Allen family, and they didn’t end up making it to the school to pick them up because they were in the midst of moving. McVicker says Brane was worried that the kids couldn’t get the gifts in time and asked McVicker if she could drop the gifts off at the main district office.
“Very late in the day, the day before break, she brings all these presents over here to make sure that the family was able to get the presents so the kids would have them before Christmas,” McVicker says. “That’s just the type of person that she is. And those are the types of things that she does all the time for our kids.”
Since she started the food pantry last year, Brane says more and more Allen families come to get food and clothes they wouldn’t have gotten before. And Brane will continue whatever she needs to do to keep Allen and it’s families at the center.
“I’ve always thought it was important to help students and their families,” Brane says. “Some people are very scared to say that they need help, but I always encourage them it’s OK.
“There’s always times in everyone’s life that we might need help and it’s OK to receive that help when needed.”