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Collection for school supplies in full swing

By Laura McMillan and Kandis Webb

For many, the end of summer signifies more than shorter days and cooler temperatures. It's the time of year when parents walk around stores with a list of school supplies necessary for their children's education. Stacks of notebook paper, folders, pencils, markers, and bookbags fill shopping carts to the rim while children's faces light up with excitement in anticipation of the first day of school.

There are those students whose families are undergoing changes or dealing with setbacks. Those children may not be able to enjoy the usual school preparations. For them Clayton County Department of Family and Child Services (DFCS) and Children's Restoration Network are asking for donations of school supplies to provide every child with the basic tools that will put them at a greater advantage to succeed.

Located in Dunwoody, the Restoration Network has been conducting a Back to School Drive for the past 11 years. The mission of the drive is to ensure that disadvantaged children are just as prepared as other children for the upcoming school year. Recipients of the supplies live in homeless shelters located in 17 Atlanta metro counties.

"Our goal is 3,700 new bookbags," says Cliff Kinsey, CEO of Children's Restoration Network.

Homeless shelters like The Hope Shelter located in Hapeville can and do provide the children with shelter and food, but often times the parents and shelter providers experience financial difficulty that hinder them from buying everything their children need.

At this point there are five children in this shelter who will benefit from the drive. Of the five children living in the shelter one is in elementary school, two are in high school, and two are in kindergarten.

"The drive benefits the children because parents and the shelter can't afford everything the children need," explains Janet Foster, Director of The Hope Shelter.

On July 1st, drop-off boxes were open to the public in all metro Wachovia Banks and Haverty Furniture stores. Volunteers are working these areas making sure boxes don't overflow and they are even writing tax receipts at donors request. It is not too late to make a contribution. The boxes will be available until August 6th.

"Right now there's only a notebook in the box," says Carla LaRose, an employee at the Haverty Furniture Store in Morrow. In comparison to this year, though, "Last year at the Gwinnette store the box was horrendously full. We couldn't even use the box."

1,700 homeless children will be invited to the Back to School Readiness Program on August 7th at the close of the drive. They will be entertained by a magician, inspired by a motivational speaker, and partake in a buffet. Also, the children will receive hair cuts, dental screenings, hearing screenings, and vision screenings. It will be on this day that the bookbags full of school supplies will be given to the children. They will have the opportunity to welcome the excited looks and feelings associated with the first day of school.

The need DFCS has for school supplies is ongoing, with no final culminating event. "We have kids coming into care every month - every week, unfortunately," said DFCS Deputy Director, Chuck Fischer, who will welcome donations long after the first day of school.

In estimating the number of Clayton County DFCS children that are in need of school supplies Lavett Birdsong, the DFCS liaison for foster care, said, "We've got about 500 kids in care and out of that probably about 300 to 350."

After identifying the households with school aged children, the next step is to ask the community for donations of every school supply from paper to calculators.

"We're in dire need of crayons," said Birdsong, thinking of the elementary students. She said that calculators were the most scarce item on the list for middle and high school students.

Something as simple as a specific type of pencil would please the three foster children in Glenda Horton's home. "I know my teenagers like the led pencils. I guess it is the cool thing to do - to have led pencils," said Horton, 55 of Jonesboro.

Horton's three children, ages six, 13, and 16, span all levels of public school, but according to Horton they share at least one thing in common with each other and all their fellow scholars. "All the kids want to have new stuff," Horton said.

Horton allowed that the new stuff can be expensive. "I probably spend 20 to 25 dollars per kid," she said. Horton said, "Every little bit helps."

"They're excited about getting the stuff," Horton said of her children who are old enough to understand and be thankful for the donations.

Both DFCS and the Restoration Network are asking for donations of pens, pencils, markers, bookbags, calculators, paper, spiral notebooks, file folders, scissors, glue, dictionaries, erasers, pencil boxes, rulers, and pencil sharpeners. Donations to the DFCS drive should be brought to the DFCS Clayton County Office at 877 Battlecreek Road. Anyone who wishes to volunteer or donate to The Children's Restoration Network may contact the organization at 770-649-7117 or visit www.childrn.org.

DFCS Deputy Director, Chuck Fischer wants the public to know that donations are appreciated. "They're emotionally drained," Fischer said of the children being helped by these donations, "but like any child when they get something new they're happy - particularly if they get a nice new bookbag."