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Helping erase hardship with Hudson heart

The Raider Network volunteer Laura Foster, left, and others from the volunteer group teamed up with Hudson High School Social Worker Julie Johnson and teacher Susie Anderson to bring The Network store to the school. Rebecca Mariscal / RiverTown Multimedia 1 / 3
The Network store at Hudson High School offers a variety of items to students in need. It is stocked by donations and run by volunteers. Rebecca Mariscal / RiverTown Multimedia 2 / 3
A rack full of clothes welcomes students who need them in The Raider Network store at Hudson High School. The store provides basic needs like food, clothing, health and dignity products to students with disadvantages at the school. Rebecca Mariscal / RiverTown Multimedia 3 / 3

Among the bright new spaces in the remodeled Hudson High School is one unique space tucked into the middle.

After two years of supporting HHS students, the Raider Network has found a spot on campus to further serve students in need.

The Network store is designed for students at a disadvantage, whether they are part of the school's free and reduced lunch program, facing homelessness or have a special circumstance, Social Worker Julie Johnson said.

Students can visit the store during advisory or lunch to pick up needed items like clothing, winter accessories, health products, school supplies and food and snacks.

The store is manned by volunteers, from the Raider Network as well as other students.

"Everything is free, no questions asked," Johnson said.

The path to the store started two years ago, when Hudson residents Laura Foster and Darcy Jerome were looking for a way to support students at the high school. They reached out to teacher Susie Anderson and Johnson.

They determined food insecurity was a large piece of the puzzle, Foster said, and addressing that need could be a great help.

"That takes a lot of stress out of these students' lives so they can focus on school," Foster said.

From there, The Raider Network formed. Foster said it was heartwarming to see the response.

"What we have found is our community is extremely generous and they want to help, it's just giving them an avenue to do so," Foster said.

The network started a cinch sack program providing food to students in need once week. That program has since been incorporated into the Hudson Area Backpack Program, which was already serving elementary and middle school students.

Last summer the group set its sights on a space onsite at the school. This fall, shortly after the high school opened for the year, so did The Network.

The brightly lit room, filled thoughtfully with anything a student could need, is designed to be a safe and welcoming place for students.

"It's some place they feel safe and cared about," Anderson said.

The space and its location were selected to be respectful, prominent and accessible, Foster said.

The store is open for students every school day, manned by volunteers Foster, Jerome, Lisa Bailey, Becky Turnbull, Sue Bond and Rebecca Bevers.

It serves about 40 students, and sees 25 of them a day on average, Johnson said.

The store has fostered connections between the students and the volunteers, as well as among the students themselves.

"Every day there's a story," Anderson said, as the group recalled students who excitedly picked out items, and proudly wore them the next day.

The students have begun to take ownership of it, Johnson said, suggesting items to stock, providing artwork for the space and getting more involved.

The Raider Network also provides students in need with special, one-time needs like driver's education fees, sports shoes, car parts, gas cards and more.

For the holidays, member students received gifts for themselves, as well as the opportunity to shop the store for gifts for their families.

Many in the area aren't aware that Hudson has students facing these kind of problems.

"We hope that this can bring awareness and kind of send compassion," Foster said.

The group hopes the store can become a model for other schools and communities, Foster added.

"We would like to see this in other communities," she said. "It's so fun, it's a joyful place and it's a sun-shining place."

To support the store, visit The Raider Network on Facebook for a list of the most commonly used items.

Rebecca Mariscal

Rebecca Mariscal joined the Hudson Star Observer as a reporter in 2016. She graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a degree in communication and journalism. 

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