Paducah Independent Schools seeking community’s help with its ‘Tornado Tree’

PADUCAH, KY — The holiday season is usually a time for family, gifts, and cheer; but for some, Christmas can highlight the needs they can’t meet all-year-round.

The Kentucky Housing Corporation says there are 3,688 people considered homeless in our state.  The KHC also says McCracken County has the highest percentage of population that is homelessness in Kentucky.

One school district in our area is using the season of giving to help students who have needs beyond gifts under the tree.

Class had been dismissed at the sound of the bell on Thursday afternoon; but for some of the students walking the hallways, the real work begins when they leave the Paducah Tilghman High School building.

Gary Willis used to be a math teacher but now serves as a guidance counselor. He says students often come to his office searching for what they can’t always get at home.

“We have a lot of students, more so than I realized before coming to work in the district, that simply don’t have enough through the school year. So especially around Christmas time, around the holidays, we have basic needs for hygiene needs, we have basic needs as far as food, we have basic needs for clothing,” Willis said.

That’s why the Tornado Tree is already up before the end of November.

There are 150 ornaments on the tree. Each one represents a student affected by homelessness.

Heather Anderson works with transitional students daily. She says she hopes this year’s Tornado Tree generates more donations than it did in its first year– which was last year.

“Our community is so incredibly giving and thoughtful. And I think our community has learned a lot about students and families that are in transition in our city—that these are our neighbors,” Anderson said.

Willis says there’s no greater gift to give this season than support to our community’s kids.

“You show them that we do care for them. I mean, they’re not just out there to fend for themselves. They have someone they can go to, somewhere they can go, someone they can count on,” Willis said.

Below is a list of specific items needed. These items can be dropped off at the Paducah Independent Schools Board Office located at 800 Caldwell St, Paducah, KY 42003.

  • Gift cards ($10, $20 to Kroger, Walmart, CashSaver, Speed Wash Laundry, Taco Johns, Burger King, McDonald’s, Family Dollar, Dollar General)
  • Higher amount cards to Shoe Carnival and Old Navy (to purchase shoes and clothing for the students)
  • Fuel gift cards (Five Star) and PATS bus tickets
  • Alarm clocks
  • Small lotion
  • Chapstick
  • Deodorant
  • Combs/brushes
  • Underwear
  • Gloves/hats/winter clothing
  • Middle/high school backpacks
  • Canned chicken, tuna, soups, ramen, Spaghetti-os Ravioli
  • Laundry detergent & mesh drawstring laundry bags