Hundreds of students start school year with supplies

Volunteers stand ready to hand out bags of school supplies to runners who will deliver them back to vehicles. Barbara Sherman/Tigard Life
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The cars started lining up even before 4 p.m. on Aug. 23, which was the time families could start picking up bags of free school supplies at Tualatin United Methodist Church on Martinazzi Avenue. The program started as a ministry of the church with members providing a lot of the funding and volunteers although it is becoming more of a community-based effort.

For the sixth year in a row, many Tualatin students received free school supplies to get their school year off to a good start. The distribution was changed again this year to accommodate Covid-19 protocols, with parents driving up in their vehicles and volunteers handing pre-packaged large brown bags marked with the grade level through open car doors or putting them into trunks.

The program continued for the next two days at Tualatin Elementary School.

At the Tualatin United Methodist Church, organizers Emilie Kroen (third from right) and her husband Tom (right), along with other volunteers greet families who came by. Barbara Sherman/Tigard Life

Emilie Kroen, along with her husband Tom, does most of the fundraising and purchasing, and she runs the program with military precision. On that first day, with 25 volunteers on site, she was armed with forms and checklists as she explained to them their various duties and directed them to their positions. There were people greeting occupants in vehicles and filling out forms with basic information about the students to serve as a record for this year and planning for next year; people at a front table to handle walk-ins; people standing at huge tables loaded with the labeled bags, and runners going between the vehicles and tables to fill orders; there also were volunteer interpreters.

One reason there were lots of volunteers was because “I don’t want to turn young people away when they want to help,” Kroen said.

Between getting people in place, Kroen explained, “We want kids benefitting from this program to feel empowered. We don’t want these kids to feel different, and this way they have all the same things as everyone else at school.”

This year’s fundraising goal was $6,000, and Kroen said that $6,400 was raised. “Some supplies were donated by stores, we shopped every sale, and we got a lot of great discounts when shopping,” she said. “Every year our sponsors are just more and more generous. We have 450 bags here that cost $5,400, which is less than $15 per bag.”

The program has grown by leaps and bounds, starting with 59 kids the first year, 88 the second year and 330 in 2020. “Our goal this year is to provide school supplies to over 400 children,” Kroen said. “The first year we started going to neighborhoods around the church, and now we focus on areas of the city where we learned families can benefit from a little support, plus our two Title 1 elementary schools.” 

(Title 1 is a federal entitlement program that gives funds to schools in need based on student enrollment, the free- and reduced-lunch percentage for each school and other information.)

Pre-Covid, families could come into the church and pick out their own supplies, but the drive-through operation started last summer, with the bags filled with the items on the Tigard-Tualatin School District’s supply list for each grade level. However, families walked into Tualatin Elementary to choose their items on the last two days of the program, which was coordinated with the summer lunch program.

In addition to the school supplies, the Rotary Club of Tualatin’s “Books on Wheels” program also provided three age-appropriate books to each child.

In addition to the Rotary club, other community partners were OnPoint Credit Union, Staples and Fred Meyer, Tualatin, Target and Office Depot, Wilsonville, and Family Promise of Tualatin Valley.

For more information, contact the church at 503-692-1820.