Public employees across the nation give back to their communities in extraordinary ways every single day. From donating to food banks to helping their neighbors and protecting their communities, public employees have always been there when their community needs them the most. 

Teachers and school personnel are some of the most important members of our communities. They educate our children, volunteer their time and resources, and work to make a difference every day. 

Markers placed along Rims to remember Montana’s COVID-19 victims by Griffen Smith. Retired teachers, students, and volunteers embarked on a challenging task last week by planting markers representing all Montana residents who lost their lives to COVID-19. Sixteen-hundred markers were placed along the Swords Park trail in Billings, 260 of which were yellow to represent those who lost their lives in Yellowstone County. The memorial is called the Pandemic Memorial Parkway and will be open from May 27 to June 6. Retired teacher and organizer Tom Stahley commented, “Trekking the length of the Pandemic Memorial Pathway unveils the easy-to-ignore COVID-19 statistics. You leave with a fathomable, real experience of the pandemic’s impact. Maybe it’s a stepping point from which to move beyond the pandemic.”

Retired Md. teacher who started food pantry explains how things rapidly changed amid COVID by John Gonzalez. Last June, when public school teacher Karen Shilling retired, she opened a food pantry that served 75 families of her adult English as a Second Language (ESOL) students. Since then, she has expanded her food pantry, which is run out of her garage, to support 100 families in Silver Spring, Maryland. The care packages she delivers to some families also include $50 gift certificates. Shilling commented, “I think at the beginning, all of us were thinking it was going to be a short-term thing but I think now, including the families, we don’t see light at the end of the tunnel.” 

School librarian inspires students to read at Oxnard’s Harrington Elementary by Shivani Patel. A California school librarian has gone above and beyond since the start of the pandemic. Librarian Brenda Ruckstuhl started her own website to get books into the hands of students, record videos of herself reading aloud, and direct drawings so her students can work on drawing characters from their readings. The website has also helped teachers and allows them to make assignments to read the books available from the librarian’s website or watch one of her reading sessions. Since September of last year, Ruckstuhl has circulated 4,188 books to Harrington Elementary School students in Oxnard, California. Ruckstuhl commented, “I dreamed it, and they embraced it all.” 

Be sure to check back next week for more stories of public employees giving back to their communities!