WHITE LAKE — The work of a caring White Lake woman — and the generosity of a community — is assuring that teachers and children have plenty of supplies as the 2017-18 school year gets underway.
This fall, Sally Mulhollen presented White Lake School District staff with hundreds of binders, notebooks, pencils and pens and other supplies such as tissues and hand soap. The donations came through White Lake Grass Roots, an organization started by Mulhollen.
“I’m over $1,000 (in donations) now and it’s growing,” Mulhollen said. “It’s all with the help of lots of wonderful people.”
The enthusiasm was contagious, with employees from Robbins Flooring and Nicolet Plastics also donating school supplies for students and staff. The Community Association of Retirees in Antigo has gotten involved as well, providing $300 for clothes such as T-shirts and shoes for gym classes.
“The children can’t learn if they don’t have the supplies to learn,” said Mulhollen. “They need the right stuff.”
A member of SS. James and Stanislaus Parish for the past decade, Mulhollen started White Lake Grass Roots after reading statistics that pointed to the high rate of poverty among district families. Some reports, she said, have placed the number of children living below the poverty line at over 80 percent in the eastern Langlade County community.
Those numbers struck a chord with the 68-year-old.
“I came from a family of eight and saw how hard my mother had it,” Mulhollen said. “I know what it’s like not to have a lot of things.”
Initially armed with $250 from the White Lake ATV Club, of which she serves as vice president, Mulhollen went to work, discussing the needs with the White Lake School principal, then cajoling friends, businesses and civic organizations and purchasing school supplies as well as items such as socks and toothbrushes.
“People just stop by the house and give me checks,” she said. “It gives me a warm, warm feeling to know that students are going to have things they otherwise would not have. For such a little town, we have some wonderful people, really wonderful people.”
The supplies are brought to the school and warehoused, with teachers taking what they need, when they need it.
“They know what each student needs and they hand it out,” Mulhollen explained. “Most of what we bring in will last the whole year.”
She’s also expanding into new and gently-used clothes, with a goal of having a site where items can be picked up at no charge.
As a child, Mulhollen and her family moved often, and that left her unable to complete high school until decades later, after she and her husband, Elmer, had two children.
“When my kids were in school I went back,” she said. “First I earned my GED and then an associate’s degree in marketing and business management.”
That education served her well through her business career, which included a variety of retail positions, her own cleaning service, and a stint, which she said she loved, as an over-the-road truck driver.
Those experiences, coupled with a deep faith nurtured since childhood, led her to use her talents to focus on others, especially the needs of children in her community.
“I pray to God every day,” she said. “I see things on television that just break my heart.”
Mulhollen is taking White Lake Grass Roots on the road, sharing the idea with other school districts and spreading the word to gain more volunteers to help with the always-growing need.
“I know very well that God wants me to do this,” she said. “He is the ultimate influence. He is the power.”