For the past three weeks, the cafeteria at Langston Hughes Middle School has looked like an office supply warehouse.
On lunch tables, hundreds of boxes of school supplies were stacked almost to the ceiling. Volunteers of all ages were found loading and unloading carts packed with supplies.
“This is our headquarters,” said Susan Ungerer, founder of Kids R First. “We truck everything in from Office Depot and Wal-Mart in three days and then do the distribution in two weeks.”
By Sept. 6, the first day of school, 130,000 units of supplies will have been delivered to 70 schools in the area.
IN A MODEST effort to help disadvantaged students, Ungerer, a former elementary school teacher with the county, started Kids R First to help provide school supplies for area children in need.
What began as an operation stationed in her garage has now ballooned into a massive endeavor that hopes to help 13,000 kids this year.
“We had two card tables and a fan in a very hot garage,” said Ungerer, talking about how the program began. “We have a village now that’s trying to help kids,” she added, referring to all the community members that have united around the effort.
She said that Office Depot in Reston and the Wal-Mart in Fair Lakes have been the two biggest donors.
Also, for the second consecutive year, Kids R First partnered with Reston Interfaith to extend the program’s reach and obtain even more donations. “Hundreds of backpacks have been solicited by the Reston Interfaith community,” said Ungerer.
Amanda Andere, director of development at Reston Interfaith, said that this year the program would try to collect enough backpacks for every needy student in the Reston and Herndon area. The goal is 5,000 backpacks.
Andere said that helping kids go to school prepared with the proper supplies helps them do better in school. “We’ve seen that, for kids that don’t go to school with the proper supplies, it could have a negative impact on their attitude toward school or academics,” she said.
In Chantilly, Kids R First has developed a continuing four-year partnership with Western Fairfax Christian Ministry to reach the schools in that area.
Linda Clark, who lives in Reston and is a guidance counselor at Greenbriar East Elementary School, sees firsthand how the effort helps students every year. She said this year, the program will help at least 152 students at her school. “It’s fabulous and the schools just love it,” Clark said, adding that the program also helps students throughout the school year. “We give extra supplies to the teachers, so they can distribute them throughout the school year if students run out,” said Ungerer.
Another volunteer, Dotty Pearson, said she got involved in the program to help children. She has volunteered several times for Kids R First.
THE PROCESS for distributing the supplies is based on school need. “In May, we sent out a school supply list to the schools to fill out a custom order,” Ungerer said, adding that the process ensures that each school gets the supplies it needs.
Along with about 70 volunteers, many from the Giving Circle of Hope, a charity organization also based in Reston, and teens in the area, Ungerer organized the supplies by school for distribution. When volunteers picked up the supplies from office suppliers, they had access to a truck and driver donated by Northrup Grumman.
Steve Gantt, a 14-year-old volunteer, spent a day at Langston Hughes lugging boxes for school representatives who stopped in to pick up their school’s supplies. When a group from Herndon High School showed up — Billy Young, the building supervisor; Martin Pyszka, the school’s engineer; and Jay Kim, the school’s custodian — Gantt grabbed a dolly to cart boxes to their vehicle. The four of them took several trips to get all the supplies out of the cafeteria. “I just wanted to help out,” said Gantt.
In addition to school supplies, Kids R First has also provided 1,600 mini-scholarships for students at 10 schools.
“We’re always looking for business and communities along the Dulles corridor to partner with or to provide donations to us,” said Ungerer, adding that the program could always use more donations to help more children.