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WFCM Collecting Backpacks for School Children

It may be a high-tech world, but school children still need to have basics such as pens, pencils, paper and backpacks. Yet many families in the local area are struggling financially and can't afford these things.

That's where Western Fairfax Christian Ministries (WFCM) comes in. It's now in its seventh year of providing local students with the supplies they'll need for the upcoming school year. In the past, WFCM collected everything, but last year it partnered with "Kids R First," a nonprofit group from Reston, and the alliance proved beneficial for everyone.

"'Kids R First' was started by a group of retired teachers who saw, firsthand, how hard it was for children to achieve at school if they did not have the basic equipment," explained WFCM executive director Dorothy Fonow. "With 'Kids R First' supplying the school supplies and WFCM providing the backpacks, we reached over 1,000 children," compared to 300 children in previous years.

THE EFFORT WAS such a success that they're doing it again, this year. But they need local residents to help donate the backpacks so they can meet the increased demand. And the children receiving them live here in the community and are at every grade level in local schools.

"This is very important," said Fonow. "The children we served last year were the ones in receipt of free school lunches, so it means their family income is very low. People don't always realize that there's so much need here. The median family income for this area is $84,000 — but these people don't make it. For example, there are some families of eight earning less than $35,000 a year. I don't know how they could [furnish backpacks for their children]."

Centreville's Carol Vennergrund is coordinating the backpack program for WFCM, and both she and Fonow advise residents wishing to help out to look for sales on backpacks at stores such as Kmart, Target, Wal Mart, Office Depot, Staple's, CVS, Giant and T.J. Mack's. They also recommend purchasing fairly plain, unisex-designed backpacks that may be distributed as evenly as possible to both boys and girls. High-school students usually need larger, heavy-duty backpacks.

They should be dropped off to WFCM during the week of Aug. 18. Call 703-988-9656 for drop-off information and location. Fonow says at least 1,100 to 1,200 backpacks are needed, this year, because the area has a new elementary school and the local population has grown.

"We believe that, if a child walks into school with a fully equipped backpack, we increase his or her chance of success," said Fonow. "When we raise children's self-esteem, they are released to explore the wonders of education uninhibited. I thank everyone, in advance, for helping the children in our community."