With the first day of school, Aug. 19, looming, hundreds of schoolchildren in South County need help with basic school supplies such as books, pencils and notepads as they get ready for classes.
But while other groups are helping with much-needed backpacks for youngsters, Good Samaritan Mission wants to do more than just hand out book bags. They want to help parents help themselves by taking advantage of local services and to include the whole community in the effort.
Back to School Outreach is set for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 9, at the Mission, 14920 Balm Wimauma Road in Wimauma.
“We wanted to see what we could do differently,” said Bill Cruz Jr., executive director of Good Samaritan. Knowing the needs of the young scholars go far beyond backpacks, Good Samaritan wants to link underprivileged families with not only school supplies but also area assistance agencies that can help alleviate the causes of long-term poverty.
Cruz said, “We saw there were other churches and civic groups giving out backpacks, so we thought: What we can do differently? What about getting the children haircuts or cleaning up a little girl’s nails to get her ready for school? What about getting glasses for those who need them?”
“It’s a community mentality so we can all win at this,” he said. “We want to have agencies there that can help, that people may not have known about, resources that already exist within our own community. Groups that will say, ‘We are here to help you and here’s what we can offer.’”
The approach is in sync with the Mission’s philosophy of educating the poor. The group’s food pantry, for example, is open to anyone who takes classes on basic social and health issues or puts in volunteer hours. The pantry turns no one away, but the classes give those using it a general sense of having worked for the right to use it, organizers say.
Thanks to a $7,500 grant from the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, Good Samaritan plans to supply children at the fair with 500 backpacks containing basic supplies from Somebody Cares Tampa, but help with the event is needed.
While the grant money covers the cost of the backpacks and event incidentals like portable bathrooms and food for attendees — more than 1,700 parents and children are expected to show up — the call has gone out for supplies, volunteers and others who can help.
Specifically needed are:
• School supplies such as pens, pencils, notebooks
• Volunteer helpers, bilingual speakers are especially helpful — volunteers come in at 9 a.m. and must be willing to stay until 3 p.m.
• Barbers or stylists who can cut hair — Good Samaritan has barber chairs ready for anyone who signs up
• Volunteers to do manicures for little girls
Volunteers from Pass-a-Grille Beach United Church of Christ have already signed up to cook for the event, which will also include games and entertainment for children “so prepping for the school year will be fun,” said Anne Madden, a volunteer at Good Samaritan who is helping organize the event. The Holness Family Puppets will also be in the chapel for the fair.
With collection bins at Little Harbor and American Momentum Bank in Sun City Center, the Mission is hoping to have additional backpacks and supplies for children come Aug. 9. Donation bins are still available for any business that would like to act as a collection point.
Good Samaritan is also on the lookout for area agencies that would like to get their information out to the migrant community.
“We are concentrating this year on agencies that have services that educate or enrich the lives of our migrant farmworker community with school-age children,” Madden said.
For information or to donate, call 813-634-7136 or visit http://tinyurl.com/observer-GoodSamVolunteer to sign up directly as a volunteer.
Who will be there?
Among the groups already signed up for the back-to-school fair are:
• Walgreens: Providing information about immunizations and doing blood pressure screenings. Flu shots will be available.
• Sam’s Club: Providing information about vision screenings and hearing tests.
• The Crisis Center: Represented by two care coordinators from the group’s Child Development Line.
• The Children’s Board Family Resource Center of Ruskin: Providing information about their services.
• Champions for Children: A representative will talk about their “Parents as Teachers” program.
• Redlands Christian Migrant Association: Information on their programs and centers.
• Hillsborough County Fire Rescue: Providing information on fire safety.
• The University of Florida: Providing information on healthy lifestyles.
• Latino Style from USF: Providing information to help families deal with teenagers and learn communication skills.
Good Samaritan Mission is not the only local group helping youngsters get ready for school this summer. The Vaughn Street Bible Church, 10018 Vaughn St. in Gibsonton, plans a Pay It Forward Festival on Sunday, Aug. 2.
Students from the South County area in need of school supplies flocked to the St. Vincent dePaul Society on Tuesday. They were greeted with smiles, snacks and backpacks. Other organizations have planned similar events locally and are in need of donations.