School-supply donations rise, as does need

It’s back to school for students in Mesa County School Dist. 51. Preschool teacher Joann Sarnac readies her classroom at Chipeta Elementary School.Students will be back in school on Wed (8-19.)

As students unload notebooks and folders onto their desks and compare backpacks today, a few will have someone other than their parents to thank for those back-to-school supplies.

School District 51 predicts it will host an increased number of students who are eligible for free and reduced lunches as well as students living without a permanent home this school year. Thanks to a growth spurt in donations, though, the district is ready to meet the need.

The Downtown Rotary Club, with help from Horizon, Redlands and Fruita Rotary clubs, helped pick up more than $18,000 worth of supplies from Wal-Mart.

That’s enough to serve every middle school and elementary student that qualifies for the free lunch and breakfast program in District 51. Alpine Bank donated $2,300, and Mesa Developmental Services donated $200 to help pay for the supplies, which did not include backpacks this year, because of the increasing cost of school supplies and the higher number of students seeking supplies.

Other donors, including St. Mary’s Hospital and a few local churches, helped fill the need for backpacks.

Kids that qualify for the reduced lunch and breakfast program received supplies from the Mesa Mall and Cumulus Broadcasting’s “Stuff the Bus” program that ran through Aug. 10.

Anyone could buy supplies for all grades and toss them into a school bus parked in the mall. The mall also donated $600 for the program, and Cherry Creek Mortgage and Star Tek donated $1,000 each to the program.

The community stuffed the bus with more supplies than ever before, with donations climbing “probably 10 percent” this year, said Jennifer Hobbs, Mesa Mall marketing assistant. Demand was up, too, with more parents calling in to see how they could get a piece of the donation pie.

While Hobbs noted just a few more calls, Cathy Haller, the school district’s prevention services director, has seen calls double from homeless parents seeking school-supply assistance.

“We are just exploding with people, and the majority are asking for school supplies,”
Haller said. “Our secretary was on a conference call (Tuesday), and when she got off the phone, she had 12 messages waiting for her.”

Homeless students usually get donations from outside the Rotary and Stuff the Bus programs, but all are served. Just this week, the program received donations from St. Mary’s, Qwest, and a church.

The district was able to meet all elementary school and middle school needs as well, District 51 Community Partnership Coordinator Terri Smatla said. But not every high school student on the free and reduced lunch list got every supply needed.

“There is greater need now in the district,” Smatla explained, adding some high-schoolers got donations from Stuff the Bus thanks to a surplus of donations.

Bob Czarnecki, who adopted Nisley Elementary as part of the Rotary’s school-supply drive, said the cost of supplying a single school, depending on the demographics of the school, has in some cases tripled. Downtown Rotary enlisted the help of other clubs “because we couldn’t handle it all,” he said.

Still, the end result of the extra spending is worth it, he said.

“Some years we’ll get 100 or more (thank-you) letters. It kind of warms up your heart,” he said.


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