“Back to School” sales have already been in stores for weeks now, and the start of school is about a month away for many. As some parents get ready to buy their children supplies for school, unfortunately some cannot afford to get their children the supplies they need.
The Interfaith Homeless Outreach Council, a non-profit working to address the needs of the homeless in Camden County, and Haddonfield churches are doing their part to help those families in need with their annual Pack a Sack back-to-school school supplies collection. Locals are asked to help by filling a backpack for a child with school supplies and donating it to one of the IHOC’s parishes to be distributed to a child in need.
“It is essential for these kids to begin the school year with the supplies they need. If they don’t have these supplies, they’ll be left behind and find it hard to catch up,” IHOC chairperson Alex Deflavis said.
IHOC has been collecting backpacks for more than 15 years. Deflavis does it every year because it helps homeless children in the local area, and he also enjoys seeing the smiles on their faces.
“I continue to do it because it gives me a lot of satisfaction to see all of these kids, who normally wouldn’t have school items, start school with everything they need. It just touches me. (As an educator), I see these kids come to school with little or nothing; it is just a pleasure to see them smile,” Deflavis said.
According to the Kids in Need Foundation, a national organization that works to ensure every child is prepared to learn and succeed by providing free school supplies nationally to students most in need, right now there are more than 16 million kids living in poverty. In 2014, New Jersey had 1.09 million families with 1.98 million children and 31 percent of those children live in low-income families and 15 percent of those children live in poor families, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty.
Having access to quality school supplies significantly increases interest in learning, class participation and class preparedness, according to the Kids in Need Foundation’s 2015 School Supply Impact Survey Report. Free school supplies also help with homework completion, self-esteem, engagement, student behavior, student attendance and support ESL needs.
“(People) should donate because the children really need these supplies to begin the school year. If we don’t do it, then the kids will be left behind and won’t be able to do homework. It will be very rough and will be very sad seeing everyone else with backpacks and nothing,” Deflavis said.
Haddonfield’s Lutheran Church of Our Savior Social Ministries Committee was looking for a project to help those in need over the spring and summer and decided to help the IHOC with its Pack a Sack project. It has asked Sunday school students to bring in a different school supply each month, and they are rewarded for each one they bring in.
“Hopefully it gives the kids a good feeling that they are helping those less fortunate … There are kids who don’t have these things that we take for granted,” Stacey Shaw of LCOS said.
The church is asking the community to help as well. Shopping “backpacks,’’ paper bags with a list of suggested items, can be picked up at the church, filled and dropped off at the church at 204 Wayne Ave. in Haddonfield, or items can be dropped off at the church before Aug. 21. Church hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day except Saturday.
“It is just a nice way to help out homeless children in our community,” Sandy Dedonatis, LCOS parish administrator, said.
Supplies needed include backpacks, pens, pencils, notebook paper, construction paper, glue sticks, scissors, rulers, protractors, calculators, folders, spiral notebooks, composition notebooks, markers, crayons and small pencil sharpeners. They may be packaged together in a backpack or donated individually. All items must be new. Cash donations are accepted as well.
“Anything we put in the back packs is brand new. These kids deserve anything as good as any other child,” Deflavis said.
The “backpacks’’ are distributed to homeless shelters in South Jersey for children from kindergarten to high school. Organizations donated to include Rescue Mission, UrbanPromise, Anna Sample Complex and Kids Alley.
“The faces on the kids, you won’t believe it unless you see it … The smile on their faces just touches you so much that you’d be happy for the rest of the week,” Deflavis said.
Other school supply donations can also be dropped off at Grace Episcopal Church in Haddonfield, 19 Kings Highway E, and Cherry Hill’s St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church and Michael’s Lutheran Church.
Other congregations in Haddonfield who are a part of the IHOC include the Haddonfield United Methodist Church and First Presbyterian Church of Haddonfield.
For more information, contact your congregation chairperson or Deflavis at (856) 354–0648.