Nonprofits partner to offer backpacks to Carroll County children
With Carroll County students returning to school soon, one thing is certain. The community has their back.
Through a collaboration between Project Self-Esteem, Loaves & Fishes Food Bank and ECHO Thrift Store, local students in need are receiving backpacks stuffed with school supplies and a $20 voucher for school clothes. Sara Hodgeson, who works with Loaves & Fishes, said the food bank has stepped in to distribute the backpacks produced by Project Self-Esteem.
“The people that are eligible to come in now have to have come to the food bank in the last year, because we want to make sure people who are in need are getting their backpacks,” Hodgeson said. “Everybody’s really happy to get them, especially the kids. It’s fun to see their faces light up. They just get so excited.”
The food bank will be giving the backpacks to its clients until Aug. 15, Hodgeson said, when other families in need can take part in the program.
“It’s been going really well,” Hodgeson said. “We’ve had extra volunteers come in to help. It’s been really busy.”
Danyelle Harris, manager of the ECHO Thrift Store, said she was happy to donate vouchers for the backpack program. The idea of the program, Harris said, is to meet the needs of all Carroll County children. Last year, Harris said, 750 children fell under the poverty line in Carroll County.
“They wanted to make sure that no child went back to school without a good backpack and some supplies, so that burden is not falling on educators or other parents,” Harris said. “I love that idea. I love the premise of it.”
Loaves & Fishes reached out to ECHO, Harris said, and asked if the store had any children’s clothing available.
“We have a whole big children’s department, and we wanted to be able to help fill that need,” Harris said.
The $20 voucher in each backpack is good for any children’s clothing at ECHO Thrift Store, Harris said, and can be used for any child in Green Forest, Berryville and Eureka Springs. In the past week, she said, more than 30 children have used a voucher to purchase school clothes. Harris described the variety at the store, saying there’s more than enough for children to choose from.
“Those families can come in and kids can pick out $20 worth of whatever they need, from socks to belts to shoes to shirts and hoodies,” Harris said. “We’re not compensating for school supplies, but we’re meeting the clothing need.”
The voucher is good until Jan. 31, Harris said. The reason behind this, she explained, is to give families a chance to get whatever they need between now and winter. If the store begins to run low on children’s clothing, Harris said, it will certainly be restocked before Jan. 31.
“We have children going to school in shorts when it has turned to 50 degrees outside … students who aren’t appropriately dressed for the weather,” Harris said. “They’re uncomfortable, and if kids are feeling uncomfortable, it makes learning challenging at best. It’s not impossible, but it’s challenging.”
She added, “If we could just help offset a little bit of that discomfort by helping these families, we want to do it. We can’t fix their income situation or their living situation, but we can help meet that need of getting socks on their feet and gloves on their hands. Every little bit helps.”
It’s heartwarming to help with the backpack program, Harris said, because so many families have helped ECHO over the years by donating items to the store.
“It’s very gratifying to be able to take the community members’ donations for children who have outgrown their clothes and give them back,” Harris said. “We’ve got donations. We’re fundraising, yes, but we’re passing on, too.”
It’s hard to get children ready to go back to school, Harris said, and she knows that from experience.
“It’s not easy. I have four children of my own. I know that expense,” Harris said. “Some people don’t want to accept charity. Well, we’re here to fill a need. This is a place where people can be seen just as human beings and valued as such. This is a safe space, and they can come up here and pick out something.”
The major motivation behind ECHO’s involvement in the program, Harris explained, goes back to the Bible.
“To quote the good book, we want to treat others like we would want to be treated. Being a Christian organization, it just seems right,” Harris said. “It’s very moving to be able to meet this need, to know we can help families during this tough time of their lives … so we’re going to help them in this way and treat them like we would want to be treated, with no strings attached.”