Saturday's Back to School Fair to provide free school supplies, health screenings

Friday, August 14, 2009 | 12:00 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA – Low-income families with children preparing to head back to school can receive free health screenings and school supplies at Saturday's Back to School Fair.

The Voluntary Action Center, in partnership with other community service agencies, will hold its third annual Back to School Fair from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Calvary Baptist Church, 602 Ridgeway Ave.

Students in grades K-12, accompanied by a parent or guardian, can take home backpacks and school supplies at no cost. Other products and services include hygiene kits, haircuts and health screenings for teeth, asthma, hearing and vision, according to a news release from the Center.

“It’s so important to provide dental, vision, asthma and other screening for kids,” said Cindy Mustard, executive director of the center. “And the school supplies are a bonus.”

The Voluntary Action Center, an agency serving Columbia for 40 years, hopes to provide 1,600 area children with backpacks and school supplies at the event. In 2008, about 1,500 children received supplies from the center, with 1,200 children attending the event.

"It’s crazy. They get there early and line up," said Mustard, referring to the crowd that gathered last year.

Mustard said this year's turnout could be even bigger because of the economy. "It's hard to say, but it could happen," she said. "That’s why we planned for 1,600."

The crowd looking for free school supplies could be bigger this year if Columbia follows a national trend towards people cutting back on back-to-school spending,  according to a survey by the National Retail Federation.

The Back to School Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey said the average family with students in grades K-12 is expected to spend $548.72 on school merchandise, a decline of 7.7 percent from $594.24 in 2008.

The Voluntary Action Center collects and distributes school supplies at the center, 800 N. Providence Road for anyone not able to come to the event, Mustard said. 

Entertainment by teen bands, children's activities and food will be featured at the fair, Mustard said.

The event is sponsored by Voluntary Action Center, Central Missouri Community Action, Calvary Baptist Church, Boone Hospital Center, KPLA 101.5, Daniel Boone Regional Library, Red Cross, Columbia Police Department, Rainbow House, Walmart, Family Health Center, Community United Methodist Church, YC2, Boone County Community Partnership and individual donors.

“We are glad to do it," Mustard said. "We want kids to start off on the right track with a health check-up and the tools to succeed.”

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