It’s all about helping those close to home.

Two downtown Hays businesses joined last week to benefit students and families of Hays USD 489 with a drive to help stock the district’s Hope Food Pantry.

Through Saturday, donors can bring non-perishable food and hygiene products to either Simply Charmed, 1011 Main, or Refine, 1009 Main. A donation of 10 or more items will earn the donor a $15 gift card that can be used in both stores.

Sarah Cearley, owner of Simply Charmed, said the businesses have done food drives for the Community Assistance Center before, but wanted to turn their attention to the schools as the new year prepared to get underway.

“Now that school’s back in session, I think that a lot of the kids that are utilizing the Community Assistance Center are now going to be utilizing the Hope Pantry,” she said. “We also want to take some of the burden off teachers, because I think they actually donate quite a bit to that pantry.

“I think it’s amazing when we take care of those, as I like to say, close to home, because sometimes it’s easy to donate internationally. So to actually take care of our community I think is essential,” Cearley said.

The response to the pantry drive has been great, Cearley said. The two businesses are keeping track of what supplies come in as the USD 489 Foundation for Excellence will match the donations. Brianne Sultzer, owner of Refine, is on the foundation's board.

“We’re always looking for a way to get involved in the community as well as benefitting the foundation,” Sultzer said.

The foundation’s mission is to support the schools by enhancing facilities and services. Its auction and dinner last fall raised funds for the recently installed secure entrances at the middle and high school. The second dinner and auction will be Oct. 26.

It also accepts requests from teachers and schools throughout the year for classroom needs such as technology or workbooks that are not in the district’s budget.

As the drive winds down into the weekend, both women said hygiene items are still needed for the Hope Pantry, located in the superintendent’s office, 323 W. 12th.

“Once school starts, that hygiene closet will last a month. A lot of people kind of just forget about it the rest of the year. I’d rather overstock it than not have enough,” she said.

Among the top needed hygiene products are shampoo, conditioner, bar soap or liquid shower soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste and deodorant.

Non-perishable food items such as macaroni and cheese, Ramen noodles, canned soups and meat, and canned fruit are also in high demand.

The usage of the Hope Pantry has grown since it was founded in 2015. According to data provide by Jess Reling, assistant to the superintendent and coordinator of the Hope Pantry, the pantry gave out 68 food boxes and 11 hygiene boxes in its first year. In 2018-19, 214 food boxes and 80 hygiene boxes were distributed.

Students or their families who want to use the Hope Pantry can contact a school counselor or the superintendent’s office at 785-623-2400. Usage of the pantry is kept confidential.