South Fork High School staff members generously pay off student lunch debt

In addition, 'Bulldog Closet,' new thrift store on campus, helps students afford clothes
Posted at 4:31 PM, Dec 22, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-22 16:31:25-05

MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. — Students and staff at South Fork High School in Martin County are coming together to support their own.

They recently launched a student thrift store on campus, inspired by one teacher donating clothes to a student in need.


"I have so many hoodies in here," student Sumer Jackson said, showing WPTV education reporter Stephanie Susskind the "Bulldog Closet," a new on-campus thrift store at South Fork High School, by students, for students.

It's a safe space to shop, find great bargains, and pay it forward through fashion.

"As educators, we are always looking for that next thing that we can do to give back," said teacher Kyle Gorton.

Gorton is spearheading the effort after a fellow teacher donated her own clothes to a student in need.

"I'm immensely proud that I had a part in it. But more importantly than the outcome of this, I am proud of the impact my students are going to have on their fellow classmates," Gorton said.

They all have their own role in making the vision a reality.

"Once she introduced the idea, I thought this would be a great opportunity to help other students and help other people, especially during the holiday time," student Sydney Schiff said.

Everything is color-coded based on price. But there are some students that shop based on need, and not only do they get the clothing for free, but they also get a bag full of toiletries and other daily necessities.

"I hate that we have students in our community that need this. But the end result is to be able to provide it is amazing. So heartbreaking and thrilling at the same time to know that need is being met," Gorton said.

That's not the only need the South Fork family is meeting this holiday season.

"Within three days, I raised $1,050 for them," said cafeteria manager MaryEllen Burgos.

Burgos said that when she discovered the lunch room debt was approaching $800 dollars this school year, she reached out to her South Fork staff.

"I know these teachers. They understand the value of the students getting a fresh meal and how it helps them with the learning process and helps them focus. So all the attention is on them," Burgos said.

No student is ever denied a meal. But when they don't have the $2.10 for lunch, the debt adds up.

"I was overwhelmed with phone calls and emails saying, how could they help? Any kind of donation was taken, of course," Burgos said.

Back in the "Bulldog Closet," these students are ready to watch their hard work building a business support their fellow students

"Knowing we are helping kids here at school is near and dear to me, because I know I am able to experience the happiness through them as well," Jackson said.

"There is kids at our school that can't afford clothes and wear the same clothes day after day. So knowing they can come here and get a new outfit, get new shoes, it makes me feel really good," student Aubrey Scammell added.

South Fork High School will take donations from the community, and the thrift store is most in need of teen boys clothes and shoes

The cafeteria serves about 1,200 students a day. About half of them are on free and reduced lunch price plans. The debt accumulates from the other students who don't have money at the time to pay for lunch.

The Martin County School District announced earlier this month that the School Lunch Fairy, a charity organization founded in Wellington, donated $5,000 to eliminate all unpaid student lunch debt in the district.

In a statement, the district said, "This generous initiative ensures that 550 students currently burdened by lunch debt will begin the new year with a clean slate, free from financial strain."

That is in addition to the $800 at South Fork, as Burgos had already received donations from her staff to cover the school's debt before the School Lunch Fairy donation.