The Michigan Avenue Marketplace offers comestibles, wearables and personal items for Socorro High School students free of charge.
Submitted photo

The concept was simple: create a stand offering comestibles, wearables and personal items to students – free of charge – and make sure it was located in an easily accessible area.

Socorro High School social worker Frances Fuller presented the concept of helping students meet some of their primary food, clothing and hygiene needs to the school’s custodian Pat Gonzales a couple of years ago, and last week the shop was open for business.

The formal grand opening of the Michigan Avenue Marketplace – located in the school’s cafeteria – was on May 4 and dedicated to Gonzales, who passed in October 2021.

Fuller said she approached Gonzales on the idea shortly after she started working at the school, back in 2019.

“I had a student that came to me and told me they used to have a program where kids got backpacks sent home with food over the weekend,” she said. “I didn’t think they did that anymore, but they still need food, so, I just took that as kind of a mission and started trying to have food support at school.”

Fuller originally used a cabinet in her office with whatever students might need.

“If kids needed a food box or something, then we would put one together for them or they could just come and grab something quick for the weekend,” she said. “Our ultimate goal was to have a free store so that the kids could shop and have open access to what they needed without being embarrassed or ashamed about it.”

That evolved into the Michigan Avenue Marketplace.

“We have it set up as a free store so everyone can go. It’s not hidden in a closet, but in an open space,” Fuller said. “Everybody can access it. You don’t have to prove that you need it. Pat and I just wanted kids to feel comfortable to go take what they need.”

She said it couldn’t have come about without Gonzales.

“Pat was our custodian and so he was really my number one person that helped get that done,” Fuller said. “Our efforts started by finding cabinets to store donations and connecting with local people I would not have known as a newbie to Socorro. His efforts continued as he looked for space to set up our resource center on campus. He found a great room, cleaned it out, assisted me with getting supplies donated, and then built the shelving in our space. He went to RAKS for the lumber and built all the shelving.”

But that’s not all.

“As things were being moved and shuffled, Pat found more cabinets and shelving to meet our needs,” Fuller said. “He assisted us with getting a water heater installed for our homeless students to be able to shower at school. Not to mention, he was there for anything else I decided to bother him with. He was still working on it before he passed away in October.”

She also got help from college students.

“I had a couple of interns that were really helpful with organizing the donations that we had and getting it looking like the way we wanted it,” Fuller said. “My interns are social work students.”

The shop is not limited to the high school.

“If there are kids at Parkview that need food, the school will call me and say, ‘hey can you get some food together?’ and I take it,” she said. “So, it’s not only for the high school.”

Some of the items offered are purchased and some are donated.

“Clothing, we get a lot of donations. Right now, we have clothes, like jackets, shoes, socks and things like towels and blankets in case we have homeless students that need them,” Fuller said. “We were able to use some of the district’s federal funds for items like hygiene products, shampoo, body wash, combs and brushes, and toothbrushes. We also have laundry supplies and dish soap.”

She buys groceries with donations and sponsorships.

“We have the Nusenda Community Foundation as a sponsor for us,” Fuller said. “Rotary Club is a sponsor, and also a Walmart Community Foundation Grant.

“We try to work hard to have food like fresh bread and produce,” she said. “I mean, we don’t want to have just canned and processed stuff, so we always have some produce, something fresh.”

Food runs are made every week.

“Our big shopping day is on Wednesday,” she said. “That’s when we have everything open. We make sure it’s fully stocked during the lunch period on Wednesday.”

Other days of the week items are always available and “they can pick over it during the week.

“Like I had a kid at the end of the week last week, that went over to the space and said, ‘I’m just grabbing some stuff for the weekend,’” and I was like, “Great, get it!” Fuller said. “So that made me happy to see it used that way.”

The grand opening last week was held to honor Gonzales for his efforts, Fuller said.

“There were many of Pat’s family members who came to see it. It was really special getting to share that with them,” she said.

Bobbi Gonzales, Pat’s wife of 34 years, said it was important to him to support and help the kids.

“He worked for the schools for about three and a half years. He loved being there,” Bobbi said. “This had been his community his whole life. So, just knowing a lot of the kids, a lot of the families, he knew about the hardships some of them go through.”

On hand at the dedication were numerous family members.

“Anyone who had the pleasure of knowing Pat got to experience his giving heart, helping hand, and clever sense of humor,” said Bobbi. “He had many great qualities and talents that he shared with those around him. It was such a nice dedication to him.”