Cool autumn days may still be many weeks away, but Northern Virginia nonprofit organizations are already hot on the trail of school supplies for children whose families can't afford them.
Programs that assist children from low-income families have launched drives for school supplies such as pencils, pens, backpacks, rulers, notebooks and even fall clothing for thousands of youths.
It's not too early to get geared up, the groups say.
"Wal-Mart already has their ads out for school supplies," said Heather Winner, associate director of development for the Campagna Center in Alexandria, which is soliciting supplies for the 300 preschool children enrolled in its Head Start program.
Chevy Chase Bank is paying for 300 backpacks, and the Campagna Center aims to fill them with donated paper, pens, pencils, markers, folders and glue -- "things for younger kids to take to kindergarten and their other programs," Winner said.
The center plans to hold a backpack-stuffing session Aug. 24, Winner said.
Northern Virginia Family Service is collecting backpacks and supplies for 600 students from low-income families. It has enough for 200 students and needs the usual supplies -- such as three-ring binders, pocket folders, pencils, lunchboxes, scissors and glue -- for 400 more, the organization said.
The group has programs in Alexandria and in Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties. All supplies need to be collected by Aug. 8 so that they can be delivered to the families.
One of the most ambitious programs is run by Reston Interfaith and Kids R First. Reston Interfaith plans to collect 5,000 backpacks -- enough to provide one to every needy child in Reston and Herndon, said Amanda Andere, its director of development. Kids R First will donate the school supplies. The donation drive began Monday, Andere said.
In Alexandria, Community Partners for Children is soliciting school supplies for all of the city's public schools. Collection boxes will be put at local businesses Aug. 1, spokeswoman Kendra Chambers said.
The group collected more than $22,000 in school gear last year, Chambers said. School social workers will distribute the supplies to needy students at the beginning of the school year, she said.
In Loudoun County, the Department of Social Services takes a big role in coordinating back-to-school drives. Last year, it collected enough supplies for 650 children, spokeswoman Karen Velez said. It also furnished supplies to homeless shelters, after-school programs and other services, Velez said.
As a result, "we need quite a bit," she said.
Supplies aren't just for the classroom. The Child and Family Network Centers in Alexandria and Arlington collect gear such as crayons, markers, paper and backpacks for the 188 low-income preschool children in their programs. Children take many of the supplies home, because there's little point in having supplies in the classroom if children have nothing to use at home, said Blanca Leyva, director of family services for the centers.
The centers also collect cool-weather gear, such as light jackets and umbrellas, for immigrant children who came here from hotter, drier climates, she said.
Alternative House, which primarily helps high school and middle school students who are vulnerable to sexual abuse, drug abuse and gang membership, is also seeking supplies.
It needs gear for the 75 teenagers enrolled in its programs and for their family members, said Priscilla Jahanian, community outreach director of Alternative House, which serves youths in Falls Church, Annandale and Springfield.
"We end up supplying brothers and sisters, even if they're not enrolled," Jahanian said.
For those too busy to shop for school supplies this early, all organizations accept cash, and most take gift certificates.
Carpenter's Shelter, a homeless shelter in Alexandria, for example, collects gift certificates from Old Navy and Target so that 300 homeless or formerly homeless children can have a new first-day-of-school outfit, said Fran Becker, executive director.