Project Self-Esteem provides backpacks, school supplies for area students
Project Self-Esteem has the backs of Carroll County students.
Brian Watson said the nonprofit has been running for more than 20 years now, providing new backpacks filled with school supplies to children whose families are clients of Loaves and Fishes Food Bank of the Ozarks.
He said he and Greg Hein picked up the project from the people who originated it after moving to the area 19 years ago, and volunteers from area churches came on board as part of the team, including First Christian Church, First United Methodist Church of Eureka Springs, Berryville United Methodist Church, the Community of Christ and many others.
“We do the fundraiser every year, and the budget is about $10,000 to $13,000 every year,” Watson said. “This is the third year doing the high school backpacks. It used to be K-8, but we added high school because there were kids who had needs.”
He continued, “We have volunteers from different churches, the food bank and friends in the area. Some of the clients who go to the food bank are here tonight helping.”
Project Self-Esteem had an assembly line set up inside the Community of Christ church in Berryville.
“The backpacks will be filled, and they’ll be loaded into the trailer outside,” Watson said. “Greg and the helpers will drive to the food bank.”
He said the volunteers divide the workload into four sections: K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12.
“Once you’re finished with one set of backpacks, we know grades K-2 are done,” he said, “so now we regroup and we will set up for grades 3-5.”
Volunteer Steve Roberson said Project Self-Esteem coordinates with Loaves and Fishes to determine how many backpacks are needed for the Berryville, Eureka Springs and Green Forest school districts.
“Last year, we hit a high of over 700 backpacks,” he said. “Loaves and Fishes tells us about how many students from each school district are in the families coming to the food bank, and that’s how we set how many backpacks we do.”
Roberson continued, “This year, we dropped down to 550. They had a drop, so we’re doing fewer. The need is greater in Carroll County than what we provide for, but through the food bank we are meeting the needs of the people who are signed up.”
He said he believes a decrease in unemployment has reduced the needed for the project this year. Another factor, Roberson said, is that some families in need don’t want to register at the food bank and leave a record.
“For some, I think there is the fear of being deported if they are not legal residents,” he said. “Anything that means registering is risky. We’ve done everything we can to get the word out.”
Lieu Smith, secretary for Loaves and Fishes, said the need has gone down for both the food bank and Project Self-Esteem because the economy is faring better.
“A lot more people are working now, so our numbers for the food bank and the Food for Hungry Kids program have all dropped substantially,” he said. “It sounds like a bad problem, but it’s a good problem.”
Smith said Project Self-Esteem is a wonderful gift for students in the area.
“You should see the smiles on their faces when they come into the food bank and get the backpacks,” he said.
Roberson said the program helps reduce back-to-school costs for families.
“You figure if you have a couple of children in school and you have to get a $15 backpack and $15 worth of supplies in it,” he said, “then that’s $60 at a time when the families are getting hit so hard with back-to-school needs, mostly clothing.”
Roberson concluded, “It piles up, so if we can help with a $30, $60 or $90 break it eases a lot of pressure off of those weeks when they’re having to stretch a paycheck.”