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Editorial: Starting School Prepared

First day of school is Sept. 4; local nonprofits provide school supplies and weekend food.

— With school beginning in a few weeks, area charitable organizations have been collecting contributions of new backpacks, calculators, other school supplies, money and gift cards and winter coats to help the tens of thousands of truly needy Northern Virginia students.

In Fairfax County alone, more than 40,000 students are poor enough to qualify for subsidized meals, and those students have mostly not had access to those meals over the summer since Fairfax County Public Schools no longer operates summer school.

Working poor families cannot easily outfit one or more children properly for school (think of the cost of a graphing calculator).

“For many families in our area who are working hard but struggling to make ends meet, the prospect of finding the funds to purchase new supplies for their children each year can be stressful,” said Lisa Whetzel, Our Daily Bread's executive director. The organization was still $3,000 and 200 backpacks short of its goal last week. To help, contact Becca Brummett or Jennifer Rose at 703-273-8829 or holiday@ODBFairfax.org, or visit www.ODBFairfax.org.

One organization, Doorways for Women and Children in Arlington, aptly describes the challenges of some of Arlington's students on its website: “Embarrassed and disappointed that their family can only afford to prioritize necessities as simple as groceries and rent, children living in poverty share a very different schooling experience than many of their peers.”

Arlington Doorways for Women and Families collects money, school supplies, winter coats and more for needy students. Contact Rachel Dove at rdove@doorwaysVA.org or 703-504-9283 or www.doorwaysva.org/donate/seasonal-ways-to-give/backtoschool/

FACETS in Fairfax, which provided more than 300 students with backpacks filled with supplies last year, is collecting school supplies until Aug. 17, and welcomes financial contributions: FACETS Back to School Drive, 10640 Page Avenue, Suite 300, Fairfax VA 22030. Drop donations between 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday, at 10640 Page Avenue, Suite 300, Fairfax. FACETS also seeks volunteers to help at special events where students will “shop” for their school supplies.

Reston Interfaith encourages residents to drop off Back-to-School-Drive items at Reston Interfaith Administrative Offices, 11150 Sunset Hills Road, Suite 210, Reston, VA 20190. Contact Alacia Earley, volunteer and drives manager, 571-323-9568.

Northern Virginia Family Services Back to School Drive provides over 2,000 backpacks to youth in pre-K through college. On-site: Sort and organize school supplies, stuff backpacks and help distribute. Donate money or new school supplies at 13926 Metrotech Drive, Chantilly, VA 20151.

On Thursday, Aug. 30, county firefighters will distribute backpacks and school supplies for children throughout Fairfax County. They will distribute approximately 2,000 backpacks, with supplies to school administrators, teachers, and local shelters for children in need.

United Community Ministries also helps local students. Send donations to United Community Ministries, 7511 Fordson Road, Alexandria, VA 22306. Contact 703-768-7106.

Once school begins, some local nonprofits will start a different kind of backpack program, one that provides "weekend backpacks" for these children who might not have enough to eat. The weekend backpacks contain child-friendly foods that are high in nutritional value. Beginning in September, schools will assist in the distribution of these bags.

-Mary Kimm, mkimm@connectionnewspapers.com