Maryland Families Reach Out For Help

By Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 28, 2008

Many Maryland families, their budgets tighter because of the downturn in the economy and the increases in gas and food prices, are turning to nonprofit agencies for their children's back-to-school supplies.

"Many kids in this county come to school from deep poverty," said Prince George's Schools Superintendent John E. Deasy.

The number of homeless students in the county increased over the summer, said Betty Despenza-Green, chief of student services. The classification of "homeless" includes families whose homes have been foreclosed upon and who have moved in with family or friends.

To meet the need, the Prince George's school system, in partnership with World Vision D.C., recently opened a teacher resource center at John Carroll Elementary School in Landover. Teachers at the 53 county public schools that have been federally classified as disadvantaged can pick up items for their classrooms and students: notebooks, pens, pencils, games, clothing and other supplies. Corporations donate the items to World Vision.

The rule for dividing up the supplies will be "people who have the least get the most," Deasy said.

A child's school supplies can cost $35 to $75, adding a hardship for many families, especially those with three or four school-age children, said Maria Bryan, executive director of the Charles County Children's Aid Society. High school supplies tend to cost the most, because students often need binders for each subject, calculators and heavy-duty backpacks.

"We're getting families who normally wouldn't sign up for supplies, but with the recession, they just aren't making ends meet," she said. "What is happening in the economy is really affecting people."

The Waldorf-based agency usually provides about 1,000 children with supplies each school year, but Bryan said she is planning to help many more this year.

In Prince George's, the resource center takes some of the financial pressure off the shoulders of teachers, many of whom say they often pay for supplies out of their own pockets.

"Every year, I spend over $100 in supplies," said Yvette Coley, a pre-kindergarten teacher at John Carroll Elementary. "It's just something you have to do as an educator. I just pull out of my own resources. . . . Now, I won't have to do that. I can come here."

The Montgomery County Volunteer Center is coordinating supply collections for the 36,000 county students who receive free and reduced lunches. In addition to giving groups information about how to organize a drive, the center has a list of area agencies that provide school supplies on its Web site,

"These working families are trying to provide the basic daily necessities, so imagine those same families trying to find additional money to buy the school supplies their children are required to have," County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said in a statement.

Anne Arundel County Public Schools joined the Department of Social Services to collect supplies for the more than 7,000 students who qualify for free or reduced lunches. Drive organizers gave children's supply lists to donors, who purchased the items and dropped them off this month.

Howard County's school system joined a coalition of nonprofit groups and the Volunteer Center Serving Howard County to organize an annual "Prepare for Success" backpack and school-supply drive. It ended this month.

The goal of supply drives is for all students to begin on equal ground the first day of school, said Bryan of the Charles agency. If students do not have basic tools for learning, they can fall behind in classes, she said.

"On Day One, they are not going to be behind because their parents can't afford the supplies," Bryan said. "We really want to alleviate the burden on families."

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