Centreville It’s summertime outside, but Western Fairfax Christian Ministries (WFCM) is already focused on September. It’s collecting backpacks for students attending 23 elementary, middle and high schools in Centreville, Chantilly and Clifton.
These are the students whose parents can’t even afford to buy them the pencils, notebooks and other school supplies they need, let alone backpacks. Often, these families must decide between putting food on the table and gasoline in car.
So WFCM has partnered with two groups to help these children. The nonprofit Kids R First — serving the Chantilly, Centreville and Westfield school pyramids — provides the required school supplies, WFCM provides the backpacks and Collect for Kids organizes the effort countywide for Fairfax County Public Schools.
And this year, help is needed more than ever before. In 2011, WFCM gave 1,055 backpacks to local schoolchildren. But this time, the schools have requested
1,550 backpacks — an increase of nearly 500.
“The need has risen in all the schools, across the board,” said Jennie Bush, WFCM’s community outreach manager. “And while our member churches, businesses and individual donors are helping, they just can’t do it all. We really need the community’s help, too.”
School counselors tell WFCM how many backpacks are needed. Then once they’re collected and filled with supplies, they’re given at no cost to students receiving free or reduced-cost lunches. This year, said Bush, the local elementary schools have asked for a total of 725 backpacks; the middle schools need 175 and the high schools, 650.
“Westfield and Centreville high schools need 225 each,” said Bush. “Chantilly needs 150 and Mountain View, 50.”
Elementary schools have requested midsize backpacks for grades K-three and standard 17-inch backpacks for grades four, five and six. Middle-school students need the 17-inch or larger backpacks with compartments, and high- school students need the larger 18-inch backpacks, also with compartments.
Large backpacks are needed because of all the textbooks students have to stuff into them. But that’s not the only reason. “At Westfield, most of the kids carry their books, lunch, etc., in their backpacks because they only have seven minutes between classes,” said Bush. “So they don’t have time to go to their lockers between classes and they just carry around their things with them all day.”
WFCM started collecting new backpacks, July 1, and will continue through Aug. 17. All backpack donations are tax-deductible, and WFCM will give receipts to contributors to use for tax purposes. For more information, contact Bush at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Backpacks should be new and without wheels. They may be dropped off Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., and Wednesday, 5-8 p.m., at the WFCM food pantry/thrift store, 13981 Metrotech Drive in Chantilly (near Backyard Grill and Bar).
With so many local residents having financial problems these days, any extra expense — such as back-to-school costs — can push them over the edge. That’s why Bush says community support of the backpack program is critical to help meet the demand.
“For many families in our area working hard and struggling to make ends meet, the prospect of buying all the school supplies, clothing and backpacks their children need can be overwhelming,” she said. “They want to provide for their children, but can’t; so we’re trying to lighten that load and get these kids ready for school.”
“We live in such a caring and giving community,” continued Bush. “So we’re hoping people will respond generously because, in the past, they have. We’re counting on them to come through for us again, this year.”
Noting that there are 1,500 homeless people in Fairfax County and 56,000 living below poverty level, she said, “It’s nice to see those who can, give. It’s neighbors helping neighbors.” Besides that, said Bush, “It’s exciting for kids to have new backpacks and supplies when they go back to school. They’re ready and eager to learn, and it gets their school year off to a fresh, great start.”