Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Improving Kids' Lives with a School Supply Drive

Published August 21, 2011 on the earthbongo blog: http://blog.earthbongo.com/2011/08/improving-kids-lives-with-a-school-supply-drive/

It’s almost time to go back to school, and that means parents are scrambling to get the supplies their kids need for the new year. For many families who struggle to pay the bills and put food on the table, this can be an enormous challenge. That’s where Queen Anne Helpline comes in. The Seattle organization is filling backpacks with much-needed materials to make sure local kids are ready to learn.

Founded in 1982, Queen Anne Helpline provides an array of services to disadvantaged families, including residents of the approximately 800 low-income housing units on Queen Anne hill. With the economy still suffering, the Helpline has seen a skyrocketing demand, including people who had never before asked for help. According to board secretary and volunteer Donna Hegstrom, 11 new families have approached the organization this week alone. Some walk into the office bearing eviction notices. Many are among the over 2 million “99ers” whose unemployment benefits have run out after 99 weeks of joblessness. “Most never thought they’d find themselves in this position,” says Donna. “The need is growing by leaps and bounds.”

At the same time, parents are shouldering a higher burden to provide supplies public schools can no longer afford. Donna explains that deep budget cuts to Seattle’s public schools mean that parents are obligated to provide items not only for their own children, but for the classrooms. They receive long lists of requirements, including items like white board markers, scissors, pads of sticky notes, and hand sanitizer—all for communal use. The kids must also come to school with supplies for themselves, from notebooks to ear buds and USB drives for working on the computer. “If you’re a single or low-income parent with more than one child,” says Donna, “these costs can really add up.”

How much do they add up to? Running down the lists, I did some virtual back-to-school shopping at Kmart.com, looking for the most inexpensive brands I could find (except for the items where high-quality name brands were specifically listed). It turns out that one second grader’s list totaled $77.87. An eighth grader’s was $96.53. You don’t need to buy a calculator to see how these sums can multiply.

Luckily, there’s help. Donna led me to a room in the Helpline office filled with cardboard boxes overflowing with folders, crayons, glue sticks and other back-to-school needs. The majority of the supplies have been purchased by the Helpline and its volunteers, often out of their own pockets. In one corner sits a box of backpacks waiting to be picked up August 26-29.

Will you help Donna and the other Helpline volunteers fill them? The packs are almost ready, but two of the required items are still needed to make each one complete. Join volunteer Nancy’s projects, USB Thumb Drives for the Kids and Headphones for the Kids, to help the children walk into the classroom prepared!

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