Only in Lawrence 2013The Journal-World asked Lawrenceians to tell us about the unsung heroes in the community, resulting in the annual Only in Lawrence feature.
Christine Drinkhouse has been described as “a pit bull when it comes to answering needs in the community.”
Whether it’s providing school supplies to her students at Southwest Middle School, delivering furniture to women trying to leave an abusive relationship or just pitching in at a fundraiser for One Hundred Good Women, Drinkhouse is one of those people that other people can count on.
“She has been a one-woman machine in getting furniture to people this summer that has been collected for One Hundred Good Women,” said Jennie Washburn, who serves with Drinkhouse on the board of that agency.
One Hundred Good Women is a volunteer group that began about 30 years ago with a group of local woman looking to find a way to help others who can’t find help anywhere else.
“It started for people who are falling through the cracks who don’t normally get assistance other places,” Drinkhouse said.
Today, according to the group’s website, it includes more than 500 women and men who belong to telephone and email trees, standing ready to do what they can to help other people who can’t find help anywhere else.
On one recent weekend, that involved Drinkhouse driving a woman to Kansas City to borrow some pet carriers.
“We had a lady who was leaving an abusive relationship, and she had several animals,” Drinkhouse said. “We had worked with the Great Plains SPCA before. They let us go in and pick up as many kennels as we wanted. They showed us their whole supply and said, ‘Take what you need, we appreciate you taking care of the animals.’ So I drove her to Kansas City, and then One Hundred Good Women gave her a grocery card to buy groceries for when she’s on her own.”
Those are the kinds of things Drinkhouse does in her spare time. During the day, she’s a “learning strategies” teacher at Southwest Middle School, which means she gives individualized instruction to students who are having trouble or falling behind.
Even there, though, Drinkhouse is known as someone who frequently goes above and beyond the call of duty, making sure all the students in school have the supplies they need and food to eat.
“A lot of people think Southwest is a rich school and we don’t have any problems, and that is not true,” she said. “We have kids that are extremely wealthy, and we have kids that don’t have much.”
One way she helps out is with the school’s recycling program, where students can donate used or partially used school supplies.
“Rather than people throwing them in the trash, we have bins where you can put notebooks, paper, pens, pencils, all kinds of things. So next year we give that to our students,” she said.
But Drinkhouse is also one of those teachers who spends money out of her own pocket buying additional supplies like USB drives that others may not donate. And she’s the teacher who keeps a large stash of healthy snack food in her room for the kids who can’t concentrate because they’re too hungry.
“The origins of that were this: ‘I’m hungry. I can’t think. I’m hungry.’ I heard ‘I’m hungry’ so many times, I said, ‘OK, let’s eat and move on and do your work,’” Drinkhouse said. “If you haven’t had dinner the night before or if you missed breakfast because you were late out the door, you don’t have any food in your belly and you’re going to be thinking about your hunger rather than about what you can learn.”
Much of that food is donated from local businesses and other individuals, but Drinkhouse admits she and her husband, Robert Darkenwald, buy a lot themselves.
“My husband and I both had health problems early on in our lives, and it’s turned us both into fairly compassionate people,” Drinkhouse said. “I think that we’re here once, and if we can make a difference and make the world a better place, then we should. He’s very supportive. I’m lucky. A lot of people would say no, you’ve spent enough or you’ve done enough. As long as we have our needs met, and we don’t need new things all the time, I like making sure kids are fed and they have the things they need.”