With the 10th anniversary of her mother’s death approaching, Amy Sills Eggers figured she could “sit around and be sad about it,” or she could do something. She came up with a project that would not only honor the memory of her mother, Jane Sills, but also help families of students at Lake Ridge Middle School in Woodbridge, where Sills taught language arts for more than a decade.
Eggers, 41, of Clifton, is working with administrators at Lake Ridge to set up Jane’s Food Closet, which will provide food and other household items to students whose families need assistance. The food closet, which is scheduled to open next month, will collect donations from the community for distribution.
Sills, who was a member of the Lake Ridge faculty when the school opened in 1989, died in 2005 of scleroderma, an autoimmune disorder, Eggers said. She taught school for more than three decades until 2001, when the effects of the illness forced her to retire. She was just 58 when she died, Eggers said.
“It is an absolutely horrible disease,” Eggers said. Scleroderma attacks many of the body’s systems, she said, and it severely limited her mother’s mobility.
“This is a woman who used to do cartwheels in the front yard,” Eggers said. “She was a cheerleader in high school and college. And so, to see her become so immobile, it was terrible.
“It’s a very painful disease as well, but she never let on to that,” she added.
Millie Packard, a retired physical education teacher who served on the faculty with Sills at Rippon and Lake Ridge middle schools, described Sills as “a wonderful teacher.”
“She had wonderful rapport with the kids, and the kids really respected her,” Packard said. “She really cared about her students.”
When Eggers was looking for a way to honor her mother, she spoke to Lake Ridge Principal Christie Taylor and learned that the percentage of students at the school who were eligible for free and reduced-price lunches, because of financial need, had increased substantially over the last decade.
“And I thought, ‘Gosh, this is important,’ ” Eggers said. “It really became clear that it was something not only that my mom would have supported a thousand percent, but it was necessary.”
Taylor said that she had experience with a similar program when she worked at McLean High School, and that the program benefited the entire school community by bringing students, staff and parents together in a joint effort.
“We saw teachers get involved,” Taylor said. “It also provided opportunities for student leaders . . . to be able to give back to their community.”
The students who used the program were able to remain anonymous, Taylor said. “And they were able to get what they needed.”
The school will collect nonperishable food items such as cereal, soup, pasta, canned fruit and vegetables, canned and bottled juices, and boxes of juice concentrate, Eggers said. Single-serving items are especially helpful because they are easy to distribute, she said.
The food closet will also collect personal items, such as toiletries, toothbrushes and toothpaste, Eggers said.
Lake Ridge will designate certain days to drop off donations, and the school will use its Web site and a telephone notification system to let the community know when and where they can leave items, Taylor said.
The list of students who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches will provide a starting point to determine who will receive the donated items, but recipients will not be restricted to those on the list, Taylor said.
“As we know, during this economy, there are families that wouldn’t be on that list, where both parents ended up losing their jobs,” she said. Students who need assistance might be referred by school counselors or social workers, she said, and she expects that some parents will contact her directly for assistance.
“We’re not going to say somebody can’t get help if they’ve fallen on difficult times,” Taylor said.
Jane’s Food Closet is scheduled to open Feb. 22, the 10th anniversary of Jane Sills’s death, Eggers said.
“It will be bittersweet to be able to do it on that day,” she said, adding that she believes her mother would be very pleased that the program will help students at the school she helped open.
“She really, fully believed in giving back,” Eggers said. “She would do whatever it took to get something to happen.”
Barnes is a freelance writer.