August 10, 2005 - As schools gear up for their fall semesters in the next week or so, Northwest civic organizations and businesses are pooling their resources to help local students go back to school with a bang - or at least some snazzy new backpacks and school supplies.
Sixty students from Desert Winds Elementary School in the Marana Unified School District went on a shopping spree Aug. 6 as part of a back-to-school event sponsored by the Kids in Need Foundation and Mervyn's. Students ranging from kindergarten to fourth grade traveled with chaperones to the Tucson Mall, before regular store hours, where they had their pick of clothes, backpacks and school supplies.
Later on, they scarfed down breakfast at McDonald's and some were given haircuts. Mervyn's donated $2,000, which was supplemented by a $4,500 donation from the Sun City Kiwanis Club, administrators of the foundation.
Since 1989, the Kids in Need Foundation's mission has been to provide school supplies to students in need so they don't avoid going to school "because they don't have the same stuff as the kid next door," said Bryan Foulk, founder of the organization.
The program started 16 years ago when Foulk's wife worked at Keeling Elementary School in the Amphitheater Public Schools district and noticed a 50 percent attendance rate among two students from a low-income family. She later found out the students were sharing the same pair of shoes, which was why they would take turns going to school. Foulk said Mervyn's has since picked up on the idea and made a national program out of it.
But last weekend's shopping spree is just one example of the many acts of generosity occurring around the Northwest.
During the fourth annual Marana Care Fair, held later in the day at Marana Middle School, 287 backpacks stuffed with school supplies were given to students. The major givers were the Marana Rotary Club, Aramark, the Arizona Daily Star and Trico Electric.
Pat Teager, vice president of the district's governing board, said she had the opportunity to see some of the charity in action. A past organizer of Golf for Kids, an annual golf tournament that raises money for Marana's four Title I schools, Teager joined the governing board this year and said she's gained a new appreciation for those who give.
"From the beginning, I've always realized the importance of the fund raising for Title I schools," she said. "But now that I'm looking at this with a different perspective, I realize it's not only important, but it's almost critical for some of these schools to have that money to do things that the state's budget doesn't provide to do these days."
Not only is it important to support the education of the district's students, Teager said, it's also important to address student welfare issues, which are especially prone in Title I schools. Title I is the federal designation for schools where a majority of students qualify for free and reduced-price meals.
"I know that Golf For Kids does provide very generous funds for the health services departments of our four Title I schools," Teager said. "The people who are in those departments are so grateful to be able to use that money at their discretion for things students need."
During a school board meeting earlier this week, Golf For Kids and its major sponsors - U.S. Home, Aramark and Wal-Mart - were expected to donate $10,000 in school supplies, including 600 backpacks, for Marana's four Title I schools: Road Runner, Desert Winds, Estes and Picture Rocks Intermediate.
The nonprofit organization is composed of volunteers from Marana's Heritage Highlands community, including John Townsend, chairman of the organization, who said the group approaches the principals of those schools each year to see where they need help.
Golf For Kids also will give a $500 Wal-Mart gift card to each of the school nurses at the four schools to ensure that students aren't coming to school without socks and underwear, which sometimes happens.
"It breaks your heart," Townsend said. "We're hoping to deliver another $28,000 once we finish up with the tournament in November and use those funds to finalize projects as we see fit."
Golf For Kids, over the years, has helped pay for classroom supplies, after-school programs, teacher training and covering playground areas so young children can play outside without being directly under the noon sun. Townsend said the group got a late start and will hold its annual golf tournament Nov. 19. A cocktail party the night before will serve as a prelude to the event, which has raised about $88,000 during the past four years.
"The residents up here love to do it," said Townsend, a retired Air Force cryptographer. "We've set a goal of $38,000 this year. And just between you and I and the horse trough, we're hoping to pass that figure."
During another charity event on Aug. 6, GAP Ministries sponsored a program called Backpack to School in which an estimated 1,000 students from local foster care agencies were each given a backpack filled with school supplies. The event was hosted in a carnival setting at Lulu Walker Elementary with food and games benefiting students in need in the Amphitheater Public Schools district.
GAP Ministries, a nonprofit group home provider for children in Pima County, serves nearly 80 children in nine homes. The organization is beginning the project this year by serving LuLu Walker but eventually wants to take it to all of the Title I schools in the Amphi district.
Becky Mendez, Oro Valley Police Department spokeswoman, said teachers from five local elementary schools were given gift cards from the Fraternal Order of Police to go shopping at Target on Aug. 8. Those schools on the list include: Wilson, Copper Creek, Painted Sky, Casas Christian and Immaculate Heart, all of which received a donation of about $280 from the FOP in addition to contributions from Target.
"We realize a lot of teachers put out money out of their own pockets for special projects that there's not enough funding for," Mendez said. "Helping teachers buy school supplies gives them an opportunity to help pay for more planned events during the school year."
The Northern Pima County Chamber of Commerce used proceeds from a golf tournament to stuff 200 backpacks with school supplies which will be distributed to students in the Amphi district.
Fry's Food Stores also is providing 500 backpacks filled with school supplies to needy students in Arizona. Beginning Aug. 8, customers are asked to bring in their box tops from any Kellogg's or Keebler product and register their school to win. The five schools that collect the most will receive 100 backpacks.