From pens and pencils to graphing calculators and backpacks—the price of going back to school can sometimes be too much for struggling families every September.
But the Harrison Association of Teachers, working with the Harrison Community Services Department, has spent the last several weeks ensuring that every student has the supplies they need as a new school year starts this week.
"As Harrison teachers we understand how important it is for students to be prepared for school with new school supplies," said Angela Ader, public relations chairperson for the Harrison Association of Teachers.
The teacher group started the program seven years ago called, "Start the Year Off Right," where donations from the Harrison Association of Teachers are used to purchase school supplies for students in need. Ader and her husband take several weeks of their summer filling backpacks with school supplies listed by teachers at a variety of grade levels. The backpacks are then given to students through the community services office in town hall.
"Just the look on the kid's faces when they pick up their backpacks, and the parents are so relieved—supplies are so expensive," said Harrison Director of Community Services Nina Marraccini.
About 40 backpacks had already been given out by late last week. As many as 70 could find their way to Harrison schools for this school year.
"You're talking about a lot of time and money, the interest they take in the students and the community—you can't put a value on that," said Marraccini. "I couldn't operate without that help."
Interest has increased in the program every year since it came into existence seven years ago. Partially, according to Ader, because of word-of-mouth and partially because need in the community is growing.
"It was slow in the beginning, we couldn't understand why people weren't taking advantage of it," said Ader. "Then it has picked up and become quite popular as the need has."
Students names are kept confidential throughout the process, and teachers and students have no way of tracking which backpacks are accepted from the charity. Bags and supplies are varied in color and brand name to ensure anonymity and the only master list of names is disposed of after students receive their supplies.
All backpacks and everything in them are paid for with donations and monthly dues from the 400 members of the Harrison Association of Teachers. The association also makes regular donations to the Harrison Food Pantry and takes part in a wide variety of activities throughout the year helping those in need.
"These people are really concerned about their students," said Marraccini. "They want them to do well."