For many students, a trip to the store to pick out fresh notebooks, pencil boxes, binders or a new backpack helps add a dose of excitement to the otherwise-dreaded first day of school. Those with families who lack the funds to purchase new supplies not only miss out on that excitement, they may also start the school year feeling like they're at a disadvantage.
For more than a decade, The Samaritan Center has helped to level the playing field for students in the eastern portion of Hamilton County through its Stock Their Lockers program.
Through Aug. 12, pre-qualified families can "shop" donated school supplies at The Samaritan Center's Farrow Community Center in Ooltewah, where a conference room has been transformed into a Dr. Seuss-themed supply shop.
To qualify, families must have a student in pre-K through 12th grade and reside in one of the following ZIP codes: 37302, 37308, 37315, 37421, 37336, 37341, 37353 or 37363. About five years ago, The Samaritan Center expanded the Stock Their Lockers program to also serve children at the local Maclellan Center for Families, Tennessee Baptist Children's Home and other social service agencies who have been displaced by life events, said Eddie Schwisow, communications director for the center.
Families in need of supplies schedule an hourlong evaluation at The Samaritan Center and must supply documentation of their finances over the past 30 days. If they meet the qualifications, the family may then schedule an appointment to return to the center to shop for a backpack and supplies.
To preserve the privacy of the students and their families, only one appointment is scheduled at a time, said Schwisow. A volunteer who is a retired teacher takes the students from station to station as they shop for supplies at no charge, and the center is able to provide 90%-95% of the items on the student's supply list, Schwisow said.
"We want to make it a friendly and happy place to help kick off their school year right," he said of the themed, store-like setting. "We think it makes it kind of fun, and it gives them the ability to pick and choose what they'd like."
In 2018, the program provided supplies for 325 students. This year, the goal is to increase that number to 350.
Supplies are collected through donation drives held at 25 partner organizations and churches, but donations from the general public are also being accepted until Aug. 8. A full list of supplies requested, along with a list of businesses collecting donations, can be found at stocktheirlockers.com. Schwisow said items needed most include boys' or gender-neutral lunch boxes, dry erase markers, hand sanitizer (especially in the 12-ounce size), kindergarten and mechanical pencils, pencil boxes, sticky notes, toothbrushes, and new socks and underwear (for P.E.).
People can also make monetary donations, which allows the center to purchase any items not collected in donations. Every fall after school begins, once prices have been reduced, the Kiwanis Club of Ooltewah and Collegedale purchases backpacks and supplies on behalf of the center to get a head start for the following year.
"This is a program that wouldn't happen without the support of the community," Schwisow said.
For more information or to make a donation or appointment to receive supplies, visit stocktheirlockers.com or call The Samaritan Center at 238-7777.
Email Emily Crisman at firstname.lastname@example.org.