Character Counts Week will be celebrated in Fort Dodge this year with Pay It Forward.
Bridging the Gap, Trinity Regional Medical Center and Fort Dodge Community School District are working together to illustrate the six pillars of character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.
"With Character Counts, we say you need to live by the six pillars of character. But those are just words, and unless you put those words into action they don't mean anything," Pam Bunte, TRMC youth engagement coordinator, said. "Our feeling is, with Pay It Forward, you can actually put those into action and live by those six pillars of character by doing good deeds for others."
For the previous two years, Character Counts was celebrated with Truckin' for the Troops, which collected goods for Iowans serving overseas. This year, it will be celebrated with the Bridging the Gap program at the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way.
"This year, there's fewer troops overseas and we want to pay it forward here in the community," Jessica Martens, program coordinator, said. "Bridging the Gap was chosen because of our good impact on the community, so to Pay It Forward this year, Character Counts is asking for donations to the program, so we can help out more families."
According to Bunte, the mission of Bridging the Gap is to make sure every child in Fort Dodge has a bed to sleep on and a table to eat at.
"Sadly, there are a lot of kids and a lot of families who have those needs," she said.
Marcy Harms, FDCSD director of student services and Character Counts board member, is overseeing the school district's effort to gather needed goods for the program.
"The Bridges programs and our case managers and counselors who support our student services see the needs of other people, with needing home supplies and furniture, those kinds of things," she said. "We do utilize it a lot and thought, what a perfect thing for students and families to be able to donate and give back to other families that are in need."
Lists of small and large items were sent home in a newsletter to the district's parents and made available on the district website.
"It just kicked in full force. The schools are really pushing it, making sure people are aware to bring those things in," Harms said. "Each building, along with the administration building, are drop sites where they can bring things in."
Larger items, like furniture, will be picked up by Bridging the Gap, working with the United States Postal Service, O'Halloran International and the Fort Dodge Young Professionals.
According to Harms, this is a valuable effort.
"If kids are sleeping on the floor or don't have furniture, or don't even have the things we take for granted in everyday life, they're not going to come to school very prepared," she said. "That's my major thing, just to help meet the needs of students. To achieve academics, you need to make sure those basic needs are met first, I believe."
It is also very much a needed effort, according to Martens.
"I actually have more than 20 people on the waiting list and I may have enough items to help two of them," she said. "I'm down to my last two beds. The program definitely needs support right now. Hopefully, Pay it Forward will pay off and get us some more beds so we can help more families."
Cash is also accepted for Cash for Cribs, which purchases new cribs because, by federal law, used cribs cannot be accepted.
Drop-offs can be made at the old Fareway building today and Oct. 23, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.