Shyra Ely-Gash has a knack for making her dreams come true.
As a young girl, she wanted a career in basketball and fashion and has been able to check both off her list.
The retired WNBA player, who had stints with teams in San Antonio, Seattle, Chicago and Indianapolis, is now a style advisor for Saks Fifth Avenue. She also serves as a fashion stylist for some of the top athletes and coaches in professional sports.
Her latest dream is centered around students, specifically providing extra food to supplement school meal programs.
After learning about food deserts and the disparities they create among students in inner cities, Ely-Gash pitched a Peanut Butter & Jelly Drive to her colleagues at Saks, and it immediately took off.
“I’m a part of our volunteer committee at Saks, and we try to come up with different initiatives that Saks and employees can be a part of,” she said. “We’re a luxury retailer that brings in a lot of revenue and we want to show that we’re reinvesting money into the community, that we’re here, and we want to establish ourselves in the community.”
On Saturday, August 3, jars of peanut butter and jelly — along with loaves of bread — will be distributed during the Back-to-School Block Party at Ignite Achievement Academy @ Elder Diggs 42, 1002 W. 25th St. The event, open to Ignite students and their families, will run from 2 to 5 p.m.
Donations are still being accepted at the Saks location inside The Fashion Mall at Keystone Crossing, 8702 Keystone Ave. (Additionally, Ely-Gash and Saks are also accepting school supplies for Ignite students to kick off the new school year.)
“This is just the time in my life where my focus and my priority is wanting to give back,” said Ely-Gash, a married mother of two young boys. “I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. Coming from my family of educators, and hearing stories about their students, I just wanted to do something simple, something that will benefit the children directly.”
One of the educators in her family is her older brother Shy-Quon Ely II, Ignite’s co-founder and head of school. Her mother is longtime IPS educator Jean Ely, principal at Ralph Waldo Emerson School 58.
The reason she chose Ignite is two-fold. The school is located in the heart of the Riverside neighborhood, one of the largest food deserts in Indianapolis — which means students are living in an area that has low access to food and high poverty.
Secondly, Ely-Gash fondly recalls spending lots of time in the Riverside neighborhood during her youth. “I didn’t grow up in the area, but I played basketball at Riverside and went to Watkins (Park) every day. I developed and nurtured my basketball skills in that neighborhood, so I’m very familiar with it.”
She said sometimes the only source of nourishment a child has is during their school’s meal program and she’s hoping the peanut butter and jelly donated at the block party is a worthy supplemental program — one she already plans to continue.
“After the block party, we are going to continue the initiative throughout the school year and distribute every Friday,” said Ely-Gash. “Our logic and thinking is that peanut butter and jelly is something simple. They don’t need an oven, any child of any age group can do it, and hopefully it will provide an extra meal to them through the weekend.”