Organizations and individuals partner to help struggling schools

Friday, August 21, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 7:30 p.m. CDT, Friday, August 21, 2009

COLUMBIA — These days, back-to-school shopping goes beyond clothes, backpacks and lunch boxes to include crayons, folders, tissues and hand sanitizer for general classroom use. Although Columbia Public Schools does not sponsor supply drives, several organizations are pitching in to help teachers and families get what they need for a successful school year.

  •  The Voluntary Action Center sponsored a Back-to-School Health Fair last Saturday hosted by Calvary Baptist Church. It provided backpacks filled with supplies and  "complimentary dental, asthma and vision screening for kids," according to its Web site.

"We provided supplies for 1,325 kids," said Cindy Mustard,  the center's executive director,  of the Saturday event.

Families in need can still pick up supplies by going to the center at 800 N. Providence Road, Suite 220. They must have identification for everyone in their household, live in Boone county and provide proof of income. Donations are still coming in, so Mustard is confident the center will be able to provide for more students.

"State Farm (Insurance) just delivered a ton of supplies to us, so we're in good shape," Mustard said. "We'll have them here as long as kids need supplies."

People can donate at the center from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Cash gifts are also accepted.

  •  The Salvation Army runs Tools for Schools, which fills supply requests from Columbia Public Schools. This year, the group will buy most of the supplies from Walmart. The public can also donate directly to the Salvation Army. Individual schools are welcome to send requests through the Tools for Schools program, which distributes supplies through school offices as children have need.

"It is classroom supplies," said Maj. Katrina Mathews of the Salvation Army. "Students are responsible enough to know what they need and go down and get it. I think that's really great."

The Salvation Army received the requests on Tuesday and picked up supplies from Walmart on Wednesday, Mathews said.  For more information on how you can help, call 442-3229.

  •  The Central Missouri Food Bank prepares Buddy Packs each week, which are backpacks filled with kid-friendly food that elementary school students in need take home to supplement meals over weekends and holidays, according the food bank Web site.

The Buddy Pack program serves 3,200 children per week and this year is operating in 71 schools throughout 17 counties. Qualified children are those who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches in their schools, or they may be identified by teachers. The backpacks do not have a food bank logo or other markings that single out children who receive them.

Mike DeSantis, marketing and media coordinator for the food bank, called it an "undercover operation."

"We don't do anything to identify the food," DeSantis said. "It's not an advertising program."

People can donate money, backpacks, food or they can volunteer to distribute the Buddy Packs in schools.

"It's a co-op," DeSantis said. "We can provide the food and backpacks, but we need people on the other end to prepare and distribute the backpacks."

The food bank is looking for 1,000 backpacks that can be turned into Buddy Packs. The packs, which are refilled with food weekly and before breaks, can be supplied the duration of the school year for $100.

If your child's school does not have the Buddy Pack program, DeSantis encourages parents to tell principals of their interest.

Cash gifts can be made online at Donations of backpacks, appropriate food items or cash also can be made at the food bank, 2101 Vandiver Drive, Suite B.

  •  Operation School Bell, run by the Assistance League of Mid-Missouri, "provides new clothing to disadvantaged children whose school attendance and performance have been adversely affected by the lack of suitable clothing," according to the league's Web site.

The program operates like a thrift store where families come pick out clothing for children. This is not open to anyone, however. "Children in need are referred to the project by school personnel," according to the Web  site.

You can donate clothing, shoes, backpacks and other supplies to the Assistance League office at 1729 W. Broadway, Suite 1A.

  • The Wardrobe is a thrift store run by volunteers that allows referred families to pick out free clothing on Tuesdays. Carol Smith, who helped organize The Wardrobe 40 years ago, said each child can receive up to five gently-used outfits over a three-month period, depending on availability. Referrals come from the Division of Family Services, school counselors and local churches.

"They determine that there's a need, and they send a referral to us and we acknowledge that request," Smith said.

Call 442-3260 for more information, or visit the store at 715 Park Ave. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday. The store is open to referrals only from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday.

  •  Contact church or school for information on other available school-assistance programs.

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