This August, hundreds of local students in need of help will start the school year with brand new school supplies, as well as backpacks and clothing, thanks to the generosity of the Lee’s Summit community.
Lee’s Summit Social Services, Coldwater of Lee’s Summit, Holy Spirit Catholic Church and Budget Blinds are several of the local organizations spearheading school supply and clothing initiatives this summer for families who are not able to provide these items for their children.
“So many people are just one paycheck away from needing help. An extra-large medical bill or something else unexpected can take away from parents being able to provide the necessities for their children,” said Megan Salerno, Lee’s Summit Social Services staff member.
Lee’s Summit Social Services launched its annual Back-to-School store in 1993. From late July through early August, parents visit the store and “shop” for school supplies, backpacks, clothing, and shoes for their children — all at no charge.
“Supply drives, grants and donations from our amazing community and businesses keep this program going,” Salerno said. “People come from everywhere to donate and volunteer.”
Since 1993, the program has grown significantly, particularly in the past couple of years. In 2016, the Back-to-School store served 698 families. That number was 743 in 2017, and a similar increase is anticipated this year.
Requests for these types of assistance are on the rise in Lee’s Summit.
Recognizing this need, Coldwater of Lee’s Summit also conducts an annual school supply program. In 2017, more than 200 children received supplies through this program.
“Hunger and poverty know no boundaries, including Lee’s Summit. There’s a problem here and we just want to help,” said Monte Stull, Coldwater community director.
Each summer, Coldwater distributes school supplies to students in both the Crossroads and Sage Crossing areas through their Summer Lunches program, as well as through their food pantry. The organization also has partnered with other groups to assist their efforts.
This year, members of Summit Park Church registered Crossroads kids in a summer lunches program in July and distribute those supplies at a family barbecue July 31. Also in July, Genesis, a Christian singles group, will register Sage Crossing kids at the Summer Lunches program and distribute supplies there the first week of August.
Recently, Coldwater teamed with Budget Blinds of Lee’s Summit for their school supply drive during June’s Downtown Lee’s Summit Fourth Friday art walk. Also that evening, Metanoia-KC, a holistic and integrated care women’s studio, hosted a clothing, shoes, lunch box, and backpack donation drive for Claudia’s Closet. Claudia’s Closet will distribute the donated items to local children for the upcoming school year.
“Opening our doors to community events means opening our doors to giving local, worthy causes,” said Debbie Stoddard, Budget Blinds co-owner. “As a small business, we feel compelled to continually give back.”
Hillary Graves, long-time area educator, her daughters, and friends stopped by Budget Blinds on Fourth Friday to donate several bags of supplies.
“As an educator, I know how important school supplies are and I know there’s a big need in our community,” Graves said. “When a student has a new backpack and supplies, they have a higher self-esteem to start off the school year.”
Salerno has seen, firsthand, this esteem-building experience for children.
“Last year at the Back-to-School store, a little girl went and tried on her outfit. When she came out of the dressing room, she was beaming. It was like we made her year. It touched my soul to see we were making that kind of impact on somebody’s life.”
Members of Holy Spirit Catholic Church have hosted a backpack collection for the past eight years.
“Years ago, the Lee’s Summit School District shared with us that many kids at their Early Childhood Center couldn’t provide their own backpacks, so we started the drive,” said Anna Vahrenberg, Holy Spirit program volunteer.
Church members donate approximately 100 backpacks each year, which are then distributed to students at back-to-school night.
Holy Spirit also organizes a winter coat drive and an adopt-a-family program at Christmas.
Vahrenberg has helped coordinate all three programs for the past 11 years and has seen an increase in those needing assistance with basic necessities.
“Each year, more families are identified who need help,” she said.
For Salerno, providing this assistance is a two-way street, benefiting both the recipient and the giver.
“We’re part of something that everyone, at some point, should be a part of. It would change how people think and view people—and what they say and how they treat people,” she said.
“It is life-lasting when you’re able to do something good like this to help others.”
Contact Lee’s Summit Social Services or Coldwater of Lee’s Summit to donate or volunteer for their school supply drives.