‘Back-to-school’ can be one evocative, prepositional phrase. Back-to-School is a street sign leading children in the direction of something new while at the same time acknowledging that they’ve been there before. New year, new teachers, new lessons, new supplies, and new clothes mean obligatory expenses, which are not new at all. Just as picking out a bride’s maid’s dress is only fun for the bride, often picking out back-to-school clothes and materials is only fun for the child. This may be a glib analogy, but for some families receiving the official list of back-to-school supplies is like receiving an invitation to be in a wedding. It is a dubious honor. When the choice is between purchasing calculators and pens or paying a utility bill, back-to-school supplies may seem as frivolous as buying a big taffeta dress that will never be worn again.
Catherine Bedell, of Crayons to Calculators, knows the full scope of panic that can be caused by these ‘incidentals’ of starting a new school year. Catherine, who works for Boulder County shelter’s health and human services, has spent years assisting vulnerable families with housing. Bedell says that when families who are living below the poverty line are presented with the expense of equipping their children for a new school year, tough choices and sacrifices have to be made. Adding the cost of classroom supplies to a budget which has no elasticity to begin with may cause a family to be unable to pay for groceries or else forfeit buying materials altogether. The average list of supplies, issued by the school districts, costs upwards of $60 per child and this price tag does not include the price of the backpack to put it all in. Because of dwindling Federal school funds, teachers increasingly rely on parents to stock classrooms with basic items such as Kleenex, hand sanitizer, paper towels, soap etc. in addition to the more traditional supplies. The bill for a family of 4 or 5 school aged children to go back-to-school can easily equal the cost of rent in some cases.
Catherine was well acquainted with who needed back-to-school aide in Boulder County. She also saw evidence that the community was compelled to give. School supply drives seemed to be taking place in various locations throughout the county. Bedell reasoned that if she could combine these individual efforts and make them convenient and tax deductible, then maybe even more supplies could find their way into backpacks and be placed on those hundreds of little shoulders who needed them.
Bedell was right, and in 2005 Crayons to Calculators furnished 500 Boulder county students with backpacks filled with supplies. Five years later, over 7000 fully loaded, backpacks were made available for the 2010-2011 school year. Crayons to Calculators is a collaboration of 6 non-profit organizations and is operating under the fiduciary umbrella of Impact on Education who furnishes 501c(3) tax receipts for all donations.
Crayons to Calculators take monetary donations year round and begins purchasing materials in July. Using the statistics created by school lunch programs, Crayons to Calculators has a fairly accurate idea of how many backpacks to plan for each year. Parents in need can contact their local school and request a backpack for their child, or a child can simply arrive on the first day of school and pick one up. The process is not only efficient but confidential and sensitive to the student’s feelings.
Crayons to Calculators has finished distributing materials for this year. However, because of the recent fires in the county, Bedell says that they are accepting additional donations. The organization also offers corporate challenges and is excited by the generous investments of its local sponsors such as: Western Disposal Services and Staples.
Individuals who wish to contribute can go online to http://crayonstocalculators.org/get-involved/donate . Donors can choose to donate online, send a check to the Impact on Education office at 75 Manhattan Dr., Suite 205 Boulder, Colorado 80303. Or you can print out a list of needed supplies and physically shop for and deliver the goods. Businesses can participate in the corporate challenge by visiting http://crayonstocalculators.org/corporate-challenge or contact Catherine Bedell at [email protected]
Congratulations to Crayons to Calculators for evoking feelings of hopeful anticipation instead of worry and dread when it comes to the phrase: Back-to-school.