The number of homeless children in the Kyrene School District has stayed constant over the past three years, said one employee, but the number that is worrying is how many kids are now on free or reduced lunch.

Kyrene Prevention Manager Amanda Hamm said that there are now about 6,000 students who qualify for free or reduced lunch, including around 400 homeless students. There are approximately 18,000 students in the district, making the ratio of 1-to-3 who qualify.

“The number of students on free or reduced lunch is climbing consistently,” Hamm said. “One-in-three kids, that’s an extreme level of need.”

The Kyrene Foundation recently kicked off its annual Stuff the Bus drive, where they will try to fill 1,000 backpacks with school supplies and donate them to kids in families who are struggling financially.

Last year they donated 810 backpacks, Hamm said, adding that it’s reasonable to expect they could hit 1,000 this year.

The backpacks are filled with binders, pencils, glue sticks and more. There are several locations in and around the Ahwatukee Foothills area where they can be dropped off: the Ahwatukee Foothills Family YMCA, 1030 E. Liberty Lane; Foothills Ace Hardware, 1335 E. Chandler Blvd.; and the Kyrene School District offices, 8700 S. Kyrene Road in Tempe. The YMCA and Ace Hardware will begin accepting donations by the middle of next week, Hamm said.

The collection will continue through July 23. After that, volunteers, who will be needed, pack the backpacks with the supplies and get them ready to go to the kids on July 24 from 9 a.m. to noon.

“It’s the supplies they need to come to school ready to learn,” Hamm said.

The drive has been going on for at least 10 years and each year they have collected more than 200 backpacks worth of supplies.

If interested in donating, volunteering or obtaining a donation box for your business, contact Hamm at (480) 541-1520, or email KFVolunteer@cox.net.

Needed items are as follows: new backpacks, paper, pencils, three-ring binders, notebook dividers, multi-colored pocket folders, crayons, markers, spiral-bound notebooks, glue sticks, scissors, and colored-pencils.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or troemhild@ahwatukee.com

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