August 16, 2002
Recently talking to a contact at a local high school, Susan Ungerer heard a story about an 11th grade girl who broke down in tears while sitting in her counselor's office. The student said she had never started school with her own supplies until 11th grade, when they were donated by Kids R First.
In 1998 Ungerer, a retired teacher, founded Kids R First to provide for area students whose families can’t afford school supplies. But, currently, the organization still needs $25,000.
"We need money ASAP," Ungerer said. "We need it yesterday. If companies would consider $500 donations, and we could get 50 of these, that would be enough."
This will be the organization’s fifth year working with Office Depot, and the third year working with Wal-Mart. Kids R First has negotiated price breaks with each of these stores, so for every dollar donated the group can buy three to four dollars worth of supplies.
"Writing a check to us is a huge donation," Ungerer said. "Instead of them going out and purchasing items, with us the money is worth a lot more."
This year the group has gathered 80,000 items, to benefit around 8,000 students. Volunteers are currently filling the Langston Hughes Middle School cafeteria with supplies for 52 schools in Reston, Herndon, Centreville, Chantilly and Loudoun County. Kids R First will be helping around 1,000 more students this year than last year, and will be donating supplies to an additional 12 schools.
THE DONATIONS are tailored to each school’s individual needs. Each school determines the items it most needs, then gives a wish list to Kids R First.
"Often when people just fill up a backpack and send it to the school, there is stuff in there the school doesn’t need," Ungerer said. "And the backpack lacks stuff the school does need."
In the first days of school, when teachers and counselors start noticing which students are lacking supplies, the donations are discreetly distributed. According to the Fairfax County Department of Family Services figures from May 2002, 33,000 Fairfax students are receiving free or reduced price lunch. There are 155,000 total students in Fairfax.
"And we’re not even talking about the ones who are too proud to ask, or who haven’t asked because of a language problem," Ungerer said.
THE GROUP ALSO provides discretionary funds high schools can use for whatever needs are most pressing.
"This is for students who are from low-income families, but they would like to go to college," Ungerer said. "So maybe they need an SAT or ACT tutorial. We provide funds and the counselors identify the students."
Park View High School in Loudoun, for example, bought shoes for some members of the soccer team. Last year the program helped five schools with $1,500 each.
"I call them mini-scholarships," Ungerer said. "Instead of helping one child with $1,000, we’re helping many."
A group of active and retired teachers and students are currently packing and organizing supplies for Kids R First. Saiydah Coleman, an upcoming senior at South Lakes, has been volunteering, along with Herndon senior Michelle Gann, for the past four years. For two weeks straight, during the summer, Coleman volunteers with the group from nine or 10 a.m. to five or six p.m. She originally found out about the program from a teacher.
"I like doing it," Coleman said. "We all work as a team. I get tired physically, but not mentally."
Kids R First is a 501 (c)(3) organization. Send individual or corporate contributions to Kids R First, P.O. Box 3242, Reston, VA 20195.