By Leslie Merchant
Many of us go through our days not really thinking about the challenges faced by families in need. It’s the little things, like a new set of crayons and pencils for a school-aged child, or a new backpack for an emotionally charged middle or high school student. The Little Red Schoolhouse Project of Olympia recognizes those needs, serving more than 3,000 students each August.
“Send every child back to school with pride…” is the motto of the Little Red Schoolhouse Project (LRS). With the average cost of buying school supplies exceeding over $100 per child, families in need are forced to make hard choices. A brand new (or looks like new) backpack can mean the world to a student entering middle or high school. Showing up with an old stained hand-me-down or worse, a bag doubling as a knapsack, can be detrimental to an insecure teenager. The same can be said for any child wearing a worn and ill-fitting coat to school. Being different is cool when it’s a choice, but no one wants to be singled out for looking unkempt and out of place.
Distribution Day, scheduled for Thursday, August 15 at Capitol High School, is a chance for children and their families are invited to “shop” for a new or gently used coat, backpack, and basic required school supplies based on grade level.
Joanna West, Funding Vice President of Junior League of Olympia and Vice President of Washington Business Bank, is passionate about the Little Red Schoolhouse Project. “The sheer number of people who are impacted by LRS makes me really proud to be a part of this project and Junior League of Olympia. I tell people about the effect LRS has on our community, and how as a volunteer I get to directly help families in need and really make a difference.”
Joanna’s involvement with LRS begins months earlier, on the streets of Olympia, literally on State Street, collecting cash and donations from passers-by. Her Rotary Club works shifts to rally financial support for the non-profit organization. Joanna’s involvement continues all the way through distribution day when families arrive to receive their supplies.
Other volunteers pick up leftover “lost and found” from local schools. They spend the summer sorting and washing clothes. Reusable items are organized so kids can easily find their size during Distribution Day. Donations of shoes, backpacks, and school supplies are critical to the organization’s success.
Katie Hurley, another long-time LRS volunteer, started when she became an active member of Junior League of Olympia, and her participation has evolved into a beloved family experience with her own children. “This is such a valuable program in our community, and one that my school aged kids can easily relate to. Every year they look forward to volunteering at Radio Day to help raise money and collect school supplies for LRS. This year my daughter and her friends will spend two hours of her birthday party volunteering at Radio Day on August 9.”
Distribution Day is one of the main reasons the LRS Project attracts so many eager volunteers. It is an exhausting 10-hour day filled with lots of merry mayhem and literally hundreds of families who travel from all over Thurston County. Volunteers enjoy being a part of the day due to the laughs, stories and best of all smiles from the children.
Beth Berschauer, Junior League of Olympia member and volunteer with LRS for 8 years, describes first-hand the joy of meeting the families and working with volunteers of LRS. “To see the smiles and hear directly from the families what a blessing this project has been to them, it makes every minute so worth it. A handful of people pull together and make such a difference in the lives of these kids. Anyone can help, whether it is collecting clothes or even doing laundry. We can send over 3,000 kids back to school with a sense of pride and self-importance,” she says.
LRS would not be possible without the generous donations and volunteers who put their hearts and souls into this effort. The list of participating local organizations includes Community Action Council, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Junior League of Olympia, MIXX96.1 KXXO, Olympia Lacey Church of God, St. Benedict’s Episcopal Church, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Sound to Harbor Headstart, United Churches, and Garden Courte Memory Care Community. Several local partners including Heritage Bank, Washington Business Bank, and Capital City Storage also support LRS.
The physical and emotional price tag that accompanies many families during the back to school crunch can be overwhelming. Choosing between a child’s self-esteem and the family’s nutritional and/or medical needs is something no family should have to endure. Thanks to wonderful organizations like the Little Red Schoolhouse Project, Thurston County families go back to school with all the supplies necessary for success.
To volunteer for Distribution Day, scheduled for August 15 from 8:00 am – 6:00 pm at Capitol High School, click here.