Kids Ready For School Thanks To Little Red Schoolhouse

Volunteers prepare to hand out rain boots at the 2011 Little Red Schoolhouse distribution day.


Volunteers prepare to hand out rain boots at the 2011 Little Red Schoolhouse distribution day.

Imagine if you had to choose between food or school supplies for your child. What if your child had to start school without the basic, required supplies because you had to pay the rent bill instead? Last year, over 900 Thurston County families faced this dilemma and turned to the Little Red Schoolhouse Project (LRS) for help.

Over 20 years ago, local community members began distributing socks and underwear out of a garage to low income families. In 1991, Junior League of Olympia (JLO) adopted the program and grew it for seven years. In 1998, Little Red Schoolhouse was born by creating a separate board of directors made up of JLO, MIXX96.1 radio, Community Action Council, and St. John’s Episcopal Church.  LRS is under the umbrella care of TOGETHER! which engages and mobilizes families, schools and the community to advance the health, safety and success of youth.

Prior to 2010, LRS was increasing its service by about 100-150 youth per year. However, last year, LRS unexpectedly jumped more than 500 kids. LRS leaders attributed the increase to greater economic pressure on families. After picking up supplies, Victoria, a mom of two children, commented “LRS helps me tremendously. My husband just lost his job three weeks ago. We did not know how we were going to pay for everything. It was all overwhelming.” LRS outfitted 2,879 Thurston County children with backpacks and school supplies in 2010. Many also picked out clothing from the 55 racks of donated clothes.

Two kids are ready for school now with new backpacks filled with school supplies.

On August 16, 2012, LRS will open its doors for this year’s Distribution Day.  Normally held at Jefferson Middle School, this year distribution will be held at Capital High School.  Families will pick up a backpack, and have it filled with school supplies. LRS anticipates supplying 3,200 children this year by raising about $40,000. The program operates on over 5,000 volunteer hours.

According to LRS board member Peggy Doebel, “for the past two years, we have been able to give every child a backpack. Prior to that, we had to hold a lottery and it was heart-wrenching to watch some families receive two backpacks and others receive none.” Doebel shops year-round for backpacks to locate the best deals. Her average backpack cost is $8 but she is concerned this year because fewer discounts are being offered.

LRS receives its funding from grants, in-kind donations, and financial support from local businesses and individuals. “One little girl held her birthday party and asked friends to bring school supplies instead of gifts. After the party, they boxed up the donations and delivered it to LRS,” reported Doebel.

Doebel described LRS as “one of the few volunteering opportunities where the whole family can participate. We encourage children to assist while we sort and organize. On Distribution Day, teens can work alongside their parents handing out supplies. Other families opt to pick up lost and found clothing from schools and sort, wash, fold, and deliver those items to LRS.”

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