The economic fallout of COVID-19 has hit area families hard, and an extraordinary amount of school supplies are needed to assure children are prepared.
The Kyrene School District Family Resource Center – which for years has gathered donated supplies and feted families-in-need to a gathering at their Tempe offices at 1330 E. Dana Drive each July – is on the frontlines, facing the needs of even more families affected by job losses or layoffs due to the pandemic.
There is no gathering this month of parents who in years past were able to select a filled backpack for their child or children, pick a back-to-school outfit from the center’s collection of gently-used clothing donations and stop at various stations during the event that included a dental fluoride treatment.
“We expect this to be a higher need than in the past because of the economic hardship COVID has brought to our community,” said Erin Schroeder, the center’s federal programs and outreach manager.
Schroeder said the Kyrene Resource Center school supply drive has set a goal for 700 stuffed backpacks this year – up from 500 last year. If necessary, they will host a second school supply drive.
The backpacks will be filled with the donated school supplies, but not by community and civic group volunteers as was done pre-COVID.
And, given the times we are in, the center also is accepting face masks in both children and adult sizes.
Businesses and organizations in Ahwatukee are partnering with the center to ensure that needy students have the supplies they need for academic success..
“Usually we invite outside organizations to volunteer to stuff the backpacks but this year, we are relying on Kyrene staff who are off contract for the summer to volunteer their time,” explained Schroeder. “For safety, we can’t bring in non-Kyrene staff volunteers.”
Donation boxes are set up throughout the community. The pick-up date has been extended to Aug. 2 to allow more time for residents to donate school supplies for Kyrene’s 19 elementary schools and six middle schools.
For the second consecutive year, Ahwatukee’s Mountain Park Church is hosting a school supply drive to aid their “neighborhood school – Kyrene del Milenio Elementary.
This year, a group of five Desert Vista High School teenagers who formed the Student Community Outreach in January are spearheading the drive.
They’ve registered Student Community Outreach as a nonprofit organization.
The founders and members comprise sophomore Joshua Cole and his twin brother Dylan, twin seniors Abby and Jaden Gerdis and Karson Herder, another senior.
“We officially got together the first week of January and decided that we wanted to help students in our community,” explained Joshua. “As a team, we’re responsible for organizing this drive.”
In the past months, Student Community Outreach has collected and distributed backpacks for Milenio students, provided spring break books in April as their first COVID-19 project, and distributed grocery gift cards to needy families.
In May, the nonprofit sent gifts to all graduating Milenio fifth graders and in June honored all the school’s teachers and staff with “in appreciation” gift cards.
The Student Community Outreach drive concludes July 27. Collection bins will be available 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily on the Mountain Park Church patio, 16461 S. 48th St., Ahwatukee.
And in these pandemic days, organizers of both drives agree it’s no longer just notebooks and pencils that are needed.
Backpacks head the list and a perusal of the grade-by-grade supplies on the Kyrene del Milenio webpage show a plethora of special and coronavirus-prompted needs, including earbuds and headphones beginning in grade one.
“This is a MUST have, we cannot share headphones anymore,” explains the Grade 3 list. Milenio’s preschool list emphasizes the need for Elmer’s Glue Sticks, stating, “We need a lot of these.”
As to be expected, wet wipes are much-needed, as are baggies ranging from snack size to gallon size, and child-size and adult masks. Even a ream of copy paper made the first-grade list, along with six Elmer Glue Sticks and six fine-tip, low-odor black erase markers made by Expo.
A third grade list of “suggested donated items” asks boy students to supply a “pack of socks for white board erasers” while girls are asked to donate band-aids.
“Grade level lists are put together by teachers based upon supplies that have found support learning in their rooms. These lists are recommendations and not requirements. Each grade level is unique in what they recommend based upon the projects and learning that will take place,” explained Principal Michael Lamp, who is in his third year as principal at Kyrene del Milenio and his 24th year with Kyrene.
As with so many changes wrought this year throughout Kyrene School District due to the coronavirus, the elementary school faces their own ‘new normal’ when schools open for full-time, in-person learning on Monday, Aug. 17.
“The biggest change this year will be getting enough to ensure we don’t have to be communal with supplies. This will be one additional way that we can mitigate risk related to the spread of COVID 19,” said Lamp, whose wife Dr. Michelle Lamp teaches seventh grade science at Kyrene Akimel A-al Middle School. Their children have attended or currently attend Desert Vista.
Mountain Park Church has a pretty simple list of suggested school supplies for donations as outlined in their ‘What’s Happening’ section on their webpage, MountainPark.org.
Backpacks, colored and graphite pencils, lined and unlined paper, notebooks, Elmer’s glue and glue sticks, scissors, dry erase markers, Kleenex and wet wipes all made the list. Because donation bins will be located outdoors at Mountain Park, crayons, understandably, are not listed.
With the varied COVID disruptions in lives and schools, the need for school supplies throughout the Kyrene School District is greater than ever and Ahwatukee residents are being called upon to help.
“We’re not living in an ideal world right now,” Schroeder said, “but we’re sending out an SOS to the community, and in our community, you ask and you get. They step up. “We know they will again for this school supply drive.”