Meeting the expectations of “back to school” can make for difficult math homework.
For households already strapped for cash, the cost to outfit and equip each child for learning is an added expense on top of the regular monthly bills. There are many who are just one emergency away from financial disaster.
“We know there are families living paycheck to paycheck,” said Jessica Poe, community impact director for the United Way of Carlisle & Cumberland County. “We want to make sure we are sending kids to school who are ready to learn and not worried about having what they need to succeed.”
Service organizations across the county are mobilizing to meet the demand by taking in donations of school supplies and other necessities for distribution to needy families at events scheduled in August.
Recently, the local United Way held its annual Fill the Bus collection of supplies in the Walmart parking lot in Carlisle. Items donated during that drive will be given to children for free at the Carlisle4Kids event Aug. 8 at the Carlisle Expo Center on K Street.
Carlisle4Kids is being organized by the United Way, Project SHARE and other community partners. This Sunday is the deadline for families to register at www.projectsharepa.org/carlisle-4-kids to receive items at the event. Distribution times are 11 a.m. to noon for families with special needs children, and 2 to 6 p.m. for other families.
The items will include backpacks and sneakers, which can be pricey for a struggling family. Part of the strategy of many organizations is to focus on items that have the biggest drain on resources.
For about 10 years now, Hope Station in Carlisle has organized a Back to School Bash at its facility at 149 W. Penn St. The event this year is scheduled for 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 17.
“Families don’t have to register,” Executive Director Safronia Perry said. She added the invitation to participate extends to households that don’t have children. “The bash is a good way to bring the community together to celebrate the kids going back to school.”
Donations can be dropped off at Hope Station Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Readers can call 717-249-5144 to make sure staff are at the center. A detailed wish-list of items is posted at www.hopestationcarlisle.org.
Backpacks full of pencils, notebook paper, binders, pens, crayons, glue sticks and rulers will be distributed to elementary and secondary school-aged students. In recent years, Hope Station started to collect and distribute items suitable for college students, such as bedding, towels, storage bins, desk lamps and hygiene supplies.
“For us, the demand is all age groups,” Perry said. “We felt the college students were being left out.”
There will be tables at the bash for families to sign up for Hope Station programs and to explore opportunities offered through the Dickinson College admissions office, PA CareerLink and other service providers.
The Amani Festival is the latest organization to take up the cause of providing supplies to needy students. “We are gearing up to present a back-to-school bash and end-of-summer festival – two events in one,” president Tanis Monroy said. He added the event is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 24, from noon to 4 p.m. at the First United Church of Christ, 30 N. Pitt St., in Carlisle.
Monroy has worked with Pastor Chris Schwab on previous community events. Together, they felt a need to do more to help families with back to school. “July and August is a very busy time for families to get back into gear,” Monroy said. “They are trying to get by every day. We should do what we can to lessen their load.”
The plan going forward is to not only provide families with school supplies, but also provide free food. Aside from the Church of Christ, Amani has partnered with Project SHARE and St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. The festival side of the event will include vendors, food trucks and a bounce house.
Organizers of the Aug. 24 event are still accepting donations. For more information, email Monroy at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 717-609-9532. The group plans to distribute backpacks, writing material and clothing, mainly for students in grades K-7.
The Newville area will have two events tied to helping local families with back-to-school expenses. On Tuesday, Aug. 6, the Big Spring Kiwanis Club will be distributing supply kits during the National Night Out program from 6 to 8 p.m. in front of the police station on Big Spring Avenue in Newville.
The kits consist of binders, notebook paper, pencils and other supplies, club secretary Becky Heberlig said. Donations can be dropped off at the borough office, 4 West St., on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The National Night Out is being organized by the borough police department with refreshments, demonstrations and displays of emergency vehicles and police equipment.
Twelve days later, on Aug. 18, the Big Spring Heights Church of God will host a Back-to-School Bash for local families at the Newville Community Park from 3 to 6 p.m. “We’re trying to do our part,” said Chris Faylor, pastor of the church on Mount Rock Road.
“We started it at the church in 2015,” Faylor added. “It just kept growing. We give away backpacks, jackets and coats to the under-privileged of Big Spring School District. We want to tell them we love them and are hoping they have a great school year.”
In keeping with the goal of easing financial burdens, Big Spring Heights Church has always included free haircuts as one of the services provided during the annual bash. This year, organizers obtained from Mission Central a shipment of 100 backpacks loaded with school supplies.
The bash is made possible through a partnership that includes Newville Borough, Big Spring Kiwanis Club, Diller Mennonite Church, Movement Outreach, Christian Life Community Church, Mount Rock United Methodist Church and the Bulldog Prep Academy preschool.
On the other end of Cumberland County, New Hope Ministries will host its annual Back to School Daze Craze on Thursday, Aug. 15, at two locations. The event will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the West Shore center, 701 Bosler Ave., Lemoyne, and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Mechanicsburg center, 5228 E. Trindle Road.
While Daze Craze is geared toward helping those families with whom the ministry already works, people can reach out to New Hope if they know of someone who could use the support, said Molly Helmstetter, director of development. “There is a great need in our community. There are families who are struggling to make ends meet.”
She added the annual event serves as a release valve from the worry of providing supplies and as an opportunity for New Hope staff to educate families on what programs are available. “It is a great way to bring the community together,” Helmstetter said. “The great thing is it is not just about getting school supplies. It’s about getting the child ready and excited for the school year.”
This includes making free haircuts available to students, along with games, refreshments, entertainment and music for the whole family. For more information on how to volunteer time, donate items or register for the event, contact the Mechanicsburg center at 717-766-7333 or the Lemoyne center at 717-774-6255.