As summer speeds by and back-to-school season looms, many families in this tight economy worry how they'll provide their kids with the basic study tools of paper, pencils and backpacks.
To help out, the Bay Area News Group today launches Project Ready to Learn, our annual school supply and backpack drive through Aug. 13 held in conjunction with Volunteer Emergency Services Team In Action (VESTIA) serving Contra Costa County, and the Tools 4 School program in Alameda County.
"Prices have really gone up this year, and just buying the backpacks alone can be a struggle for families," said VESTIA coordinator Anne Struthers. "People are really stunned when they get to the check-out line. It can cost $60-plus to purchase a basic pack and fill it with pens, paper and binders, she said.
Many of the families who request backpacks are on state aid and already find it a challenge just to pay rent and buy food, so the donated packs really help, Struthers added. Packs are also provided to children in foster care.
"For some of the foster kids, a new backpack is the only object they can call their own," she said.
Donation barrels can be found in Bay Area News Group newspaper offices and many local businesses now through Aug. 13. There is no cutoff date for cash and check donations -- those are accepted any time of the year. Families specifically request the supplies, which are distributed to them by social workers or volunteers in each
Sadly, donations have been sliding along with the economic downturn. Last year, the two-county project collected items and monetary donations to supply about 2,500 full packs -- down from a high of about 3,500 in 2008.
"But we're hoping to have a huge, successful drive this year and really help out a lot of kids," said Sylvia Soublet of Alameda County Social Services, which is facilitating the Tools 4 School program.
"It's such a compelling mission to help kids get ready for school," Struthers said. "We really have a wonderful group of committed donors, but we can always use more help."
Barrels for donations can be found at all Bay Area News Group offices as well as several East Bay bookstores and retails. For complete list of were to drop off donations and details about what items are needed go to www.contracostatimes.com or www.insidebayarea.com.
In Contra Costa County, go to www.VestiaInc.org, or pay by check, payable to VESTIA. Include the words "Project Ready to Learn" in the memo line. Mail to VESTIA, 400 Ellinwood Way, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523. Details, call 925-521-5060.
In Alameda County, send checks to the Alameda County Social Services Agency. Include the words "Tools 4 School" or "Project Ready to Learn" in the memo line. Mail to Karen Benjamin-Dozier, 24100 Amador St., Hayward CA 94541. Details, call 510-670-9764.
Need a backpack?
In Contra Costa County, contact VESTIA, 925-521-5060, www.VestiaInc.org.
In Alameda County, contact Tools 4 School, 510-780-8989.
For a list of donation-barrel sites, go to www.InsideBayArea.com, or call 925-935-2525, press 0 at the menu.