Melissa Rey, director of chapter services for Care to Learn, unloads donation for storage at the group's Springfield headquarters. (Photo by Joe Hadsall)

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The speed at which Care to Learn reached a milestone stood out. 

The charitable foundation focused on helping students and their families for educational success recently celebrated meeting its 3 millionth need. 

Krystal Simon, CEO of the organization, said Care to Learn reached that mark relatively quickly, compared to the last milestones — it took 10 years to surpass a million. 

“It took us 14 years to hit 2 million needs,” Simon said. “About a year later, we hit 3 million.” 

The 3 million mark was celebrated in September during the organization’s second School Soiree, held at the White River Conference Center. During the event, members of Care to Learn highlighted how they have helped students facing issues with health, hygiene and hunger. 

Krystal Simon, CEO of Care to Learn, shows the inside of a donation box used in one of the group’s partner schools to collect donations. (Photo by Joe Hadsall)

The needs can be simple, Simon said — she noted that each of the needs has had an average cost of $5.81. It can be something as simple as a toothbrush or pair of shoes, or as expensive as a trip to the dentist. The most common services they supply are food vouchers, medical appointments (and transportation to them), hair care products and bed bug treatments. 

The reason for the increased number of needs deals with the growth of the organization. In its 15th year, Care to Learn now has chapters and partners in 42 school districts around Missouri, from Kansas City to Cape Girardeau, reaching about 130,000 public school students.

The goal of the group is to help students who are in need of items or services that can help them get excited about the school day. Students face enough pressures during the day, Simon said, and those who are in need of basics such as food, clothes or hygiene items feel that pressure exponentially. 

A key component of getting those items to students quickly is removing barriers or obstacles, such as applications or waiting lists. 

“The idea behind is getting kids access immediately, with no red tape,” Simon said. “That helps to educate those kids and empower them, allowing them to fit in.” 

Sarah McNew (right), a volunteer, and Erica Harris, office manager, take an inventory of donations made to Care to Learn. (Photo by Joe Hadsall)

The fuel for this particular engine is found in working with educators who work with kids daily. A bus driver or a teacher may be one of the first to notice that a child is wearing the same outfit each day. Care to Learn works with school districts to set up a structure that allows for a quick notification of such a need. 

That network allows Care to Learn to distribute the supplies it collects from partners who may either make cash donations or collect goods in an item drive. Simon said that the group has a good success rate of meeting needs within a 24-hour period. 

The group was started by Springfield entrepreneur Doug Pitt, who in 2007 was surprised to learn about a startlingly high level of children in need across southwest Missouri. The next day, he started calling on business partners and community leaders to help supply some of those needs. In about a day, Pitt and others had raised about $250,000, Simon said. 

Kicked off in 2008, the group expanded outside of Springfield to other school districts and communities, opening eight chapters by 2011. 

Now, Care to Learn can move quickly and act with some significant buying power for better deals, thanks to the generosity of donors. 

“At the end of the day, we know that cash is king, so we can meet need after need,” Simon said. “But the beautiful thing about this area is that so many people want to help kids. They will give us discounts for services, and that means we can stretch donors’ dollars.” 

The group also sets up a structure that lets each district customize according to their specific needs. The districts Care to Learn serves, from Nixa and Ozark to Fordland and Wheaton, have different types of needs to be addressed. 

At the rate the group is going, 4 million needs could be right around the corner. 

“Care to Learn does a good job of allowing kids to be kids,” Simon said. “When all of their needs are met, they can be in the moment with their peers.”

Joe Hadsall

Joe Hadsall is the education reporter for the Springfield Daily Citizen. Hadsall has more than two decades of experience reporting in the Ozarks with the Joplin Globe, Christian County Headliner News and 417 Magazine. Contact him at (417) 837-3671 or More by Joe Hadsall