Tammy Herron, a co-organizer of the Rotary’s “Back to School Project,” said this year’s effort provided much-needed items for 238 students in grades K-12 across Scott County.
“The ultimate goal is to allow underprivileged children the opportunity to enter school on their first day with dignity and with greater self-esteem and increased confidence,” Herron said. “That way they feel good about themselves, and hopefully it will translate into increased academic performance.”
Herron estimates the Back to School Project has assisted more than 2,000 Scott County children since it began in 2005.
Duffield Primary School Principal Travis Nickels said the Rotary’s work helps take some of the stress off cash-strapped families as the new school year begins.
“It takes the burden off the parents, especially those with multiple children because they often don’t have the resources to do it,” Nickels said. “It helps the parents and makes them feel better about their child being ready for school.”
Nickels said Rotary’s work also helps the school itself better meet the needs of its students.
“As a school we try to fill out the gaps as much we can, but we’re working with limited funds and we can’t in a lot of cases,” Nickels said. “Without the program there would be kids coming to school without really much at all. They get clothing and school supplies, and the clothing is probably the biggest factor in being a help to the parents.”
Each bag contains a number of items, which are tailored to the specific student’s needs, Herron said.
“We always provide a complete outfit, which usually includes some jeans, shorts and a couple of tops,” Herron said. “We also give them shoes, socks, underwear, hygiene products and some school supplies that go in a backpack.”
Herron added: “It’s an application process. We send applications to the teachers, and the child must be from either a low-income family or participating in at least two child-assistance programs to qualify.”
The clothes and supplies themselves are purchased throughout the year from local merchants.
“We always purchase good quality name-brand clothing,” Herron said. “We will negotiate with the stores for the best prices that we can get and a lot of times we can buy them out of season and at discounted prices and have them stored in our warehouse for the next year.”
Herron said the shopping is done by volunteer Rebecca Vincent, who also helps fill the bags and prep them for delivery. The contents of the bag are tailored to each student in terms of sizes and specific colors based on information included in their applications.
Six local high school students who received Rotary Club scholarships also help with delivering bags, as well as various Rotary members.
“It’s a club-wide effort and their are several members of the club that work hard on this,” Herron said. “We have a Back to School committee that helps plan and organize, but all of our members step in when they are called upon to deliver a bag and do anything that is needed.”
The deliveries are made prior to the start of classes, Herron said, so students can pick up their bags during teacher orientation.
“We set out the orders and deliver them to the schools prior to them starting the school year,” Herron said. “That way they can get them before school and they can wear their new outfit on the first day of school.”
The money used to purchase the clothing and other items comes entirely from donations, Herron said.
“We raise the funds strictly by donations from local businesses and individuals that give to us,” Herron said. “We also have annual charity dinner events that raise money for the back to school project, the shoe project and the scholarships we offer to students at the schools.”
Herron said many of the donations come from individuals who were first made aware of the Rotary Club’s efforts through its Christmas Shoe Fund.
“A lot of people that we have assisted with our shoe fund drive and are doing better as adults have sent us donations,” Herron said. “The shoe fund project was one of our first and has been in existence a lot longer. It’s sort of grown from that.”
Although a lot of work and time is involved in the effort, Herron said she and her fellow Rotary members feel blessed to participate in some way.
“Children have no control over their family’s financial situation and I have been very blessed in my life, as have most members of the club,” Herron said. “So I enjoy being involved and it makes me feel good to know that I’m trying to give back some to our community and share the blessing.”
Donations to the Scott County Rotary Club’s Back to School Project and Shoe Fund can be mailed to Scott County Rotary Club, P.O. Box 728 Gate City, VA 24251.