From prom to food insecurity, Cougar Cares helps fill a need at CHS

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — As students arrived to Columbia High School on Wednesday, Feb. 6, they were greeted by CHS MAC Scholars handing out fresh fruit on behalf of a new program called CHS Cougar Cares. Through the schoolwide fruit giveaway, more than 750 bananas and clementine oranges were distributed to students to create awareness for Cougar Cares — a collaboration between SOMA Justice, SOMA Action, the CHS HSA and The Parenting Center, which provides financial assistance to students to pay for school events such as prom and graduation, and helps address food insecurity.

Begun last year, the Cougar Cares Senior Fund raised more than $9,000, enabling 90 students to go to prom and pay for graduation and other fees. This year Cougar Cares also installed snack stations throughout CHS, and created an Amazon Wish List to accept donations from community members. Cougar Cares provides weekend food deliveries to more than 10 families, and program coordinators, understanding that the need is much greater, are working to increase the number of families served.

Cougar Cares now also includes a free Prom Shop. The pop-up Prom Shop began two years ago as a small collection of donated shoes and accessories and has grown into a beautiful boutique, featuring hundreds of brand-new and very gently used gowns, tuxedos, suits, shoes and jewelry. Located in CHS, students “shop” for their perfect look for prom and other events, aided by volunteer “stylists.” Organizers solicited donations and recruited a team of volunteers to set up and assist at the shop. Everything in the shop is free, and includes swag such as new handbags and cosmetics. Gleason’s Cleaners donated free dry cleaning and served as the drop off site, and other local donors include Perch Home, Retail Therapy SD, Coleman Tuxedos, Leslie’s Finds and Bobbi Brown cosmetics.

Last year the Prom Shop gave away more than 130 dresses and suits. This year the program has already exceeded that number with a preview shop in January and is planning a second shop in spring. The group is also seeking hair stylists, salons and makeup artists to donate their services on the day of the prom, Monday, June 17. Email [email protected] if you would like to volunteer.

“Cougar Cares and its programs serve a critical role in the CHS community. Our goal is to have every student participate fully in the activities and events at CHS, and to feel supported in a more holistic way. We are working to identify those needs, and our hope is that our larger community will continue to support these amazing students,” said Jane Perry, the CHS HSA representative for Cougar Cares.

For more information or to volunteer, visit or contact [email protected]

Photos Courtesy of Laura Griffin