Warner Robins Housing Authority stuffs backpacks for children

jmink@macon.comJuly 12, 2013 

Editor's note: This story has been changed to correct the time of the Back-to-School Bash. It is 9 a.m. to noon Friday.

WARNER ROBINS -- Ada Lee had to come out for this.

At the age of 89, the Warner Robins resident volunteers as often as she can, and on Friday she was in the middle of the spectacle at the Warner Robins Housing Authority. That’s where more than 1,000 backpacks, pencils, pens, notebooks, crayons and folders were scattered throughout the main room, waiting to be stuffed and stored.

“In my day we didn’t have all this,” Lee said. “I hope this will be a great help to (families) with the way the economy is.”

For the past four years, the housing authority has provided children with free back-to-school supplies. This year, the organization is handing out more than 1,000 filled backpacks, in an effort to give low-income families a boost and make sure children return to school prepared.

“This is just something we know is a big help,” said Sharon Rogers, program coordinator for the housing authority. “We have a lot of parents who ... can’t afford the extra school supplies.”

The giveaway began four years ago when Executive Director Sheryl Frazier saw a need and wanted to reach out to the entire community, not just children in the housing authority. There are no specific qualifications to receive the supplies -- they are simply given to whomever needs them.

The first year, the project initially garnered 500 backpacks, which were gone within 30 minutes of the giveaway. So organizers rushed to local stores and purchased 500 more, which were all handed out that day, Frazier said.

After researching school supplies, Frazier determined it costs about $84 to supply one child for the first day of school, she said.

“Some folks are having to choose between buying food and school supplies,” Frazier said. “We’re in a crisis.”

Now different sponsors, from the city of Warner Robins to chain restaurants, have donated supplies and money. In total, sponsors have donated about $6,000 in money and supplies this year. Additionally, Central Georgia Technical College will give free haircuts to boys when the backpacks are handed out, Rogers said.

In Houston County schools, family resource centers hand out school supplies throughout the year. While workers make sure any child in need gets school supplies, students and parents are constantly requesting those items, said Carla Thorpe, parent involvement coordinator for Houston schools.

“It’s continual,” Thorpe said, adding it’s important for children to be well-prepared for school. “It’s good psychologically. ... They know they’re in line with the other kids regardless of their economic situation. It just sets the stage for the start of a good year.”

That’s what the housing authority is trying to give children. On Friday, more than 20 volunteers ripped tags from new backpacks, stuffed them with supplies and loaded them into large bags, where they will be stored until next week. The backpacks will be distributed at the Back-to-School Bash from 9 a.m.-noon Friday at Cam Campbell Homes off of South Davis Drive. The bash also will include music and refreshments.

Fred Wilson, vice chairman of the Houston County Board of Education, took his place in the volunteer line, filling backpacks with pencils, folders and notebooks.

“The impact it will have,” he said, “it will give these kids an opportunity to start out on a level playing field with resources they wouldn’t have otherwise.”

A box held tags removed from new backpacks, which ranged from “Toy Story” to Disney princess themes, from polka dots to flowers, from black to bright pink. Not only will the project give students items they need, it will also give them backpacks they will be proud to carry, said Elaine Pritchard, a volunteer from Warner Robins.

“Just look at this,” she said, holding up a pink, sparkling Barbie doll backpack.

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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