This year marks the sixth Holiday season that the halls of Oakdale High School will not be brightened by the smile of Veronica Patron.
The longtime Oakdale Joint Unified School District employee and former OHS SDC teacher passed suddenly in August of 2010. At the time of her passing she was described by school principal Mike Moore as “a very outgoing and friendly person.” He noted at the time that while her passing was an unexpected shock to the staff and student body, efforts would be made to keep her “spirit” alive.
In November of that same year the Oakdale High School Care Closet was renamed Veronica’s Care Closet in honor of Patron. It was a decision the OHS staff felt fitting to memorialize the life of a staffer who was described by most as selfless, compassionate and dedicated to helping those in need.
Veronica’s Care Closet serves needs of the underprivileged or those whose families may have come upon hard times. While it may be traditionally known for its clothing, food, hygiene items and school supplies, the focus has now shifted slightly as Christmas is just a little over two weeks away.
“Christmas just seems to get missed,” OHS Assistant Principal Shannon Kettering said in the way of meeting dinner needs and providing items for older students.
“The food is most important to me,” V.P. Secretary Becky Hammond said.
Hammond shared as a longtime volunteer of Spirit of Oakdale each Thanksgiving, she recently recognized that some of these families may not have a traditional Christmas meal.
The two women estimated the Care Closet serves an average of 100 students and their families in need every year. This year they have planned to gift a portion of this group with vouchers from SaveMart for Turkey Dinners. A task which both women are excited about, but leaves Hammond feeling a bit anxious.
“I’m about to spend close to a thousand dollars for students and their families to have a nice and memorable Christmas,” Hammond said. “This will bring the account lower than where I’m comfortable, but it needs to be done.
“It’s Christmas and people are in the mood to give,” she continued. “It’s the end of the year and this can be tax deductible for a business.”
“We don’t need stuff, we need Gift Certificates (for local businesses) or cash,” Kettering added, noting that all funds are accounted for and tracked by Hammond to the penny.
“It’s not a hand out, it’s a hand up,” Kettering said of aiding the students in need.
The women shared that gift certificates to businesses such as Dollar General, SaveMart, Cost Less, KMart and the like are both useful and needed.
Hammond offered the story of a student stopping by her office one day in need of shaving supplies, shortly after another had returned a gift card with an $11 balance.
“I handed them the gift card and said, go by what you need,” she said.
“They’ll come back and show us what they’ve bought,” Kettering continued. “These are good kids. I feel very comfortable that what they’re asking for is what they’re getting.”
Cash donations made to Veronica’s Care Closet are also instrumental in helping students cover other costs their families might not otherwise be able to. Items such as yearbooks, graduation announcements, caps and gowns and other graduation related costs.
“We never pay for all of it,” Kettering said. “We make them fundraise. They have to demonstrate they’re willing to work for it.”
“I want them to know it’s here,” Hammond added of the varying functions of Veronica’s Care Closet. “I always tell the students, if you have any friends send them to see me.”
As for Patron, the untimeliness of her passing and the Care Closet continuing in her honor, Hammond shared it gives her great pride to continue her legacy in this way.
“She was that kind of person,” she said. “She just wanted to give and give and give.”
Financial donations for Veronica’s Care Closet may be sent to Oakdale High School, 739 W. G Str., Oakdale. Checks should be made to OHS with Veronica’s Care Closet noted on the Memo line. All donations will receive a letter of acknowledgement for tax purposes.