Hundreds of children will head back to school next week with new backpacks and haircuts, thanks to the recent Back To School Outreach program at Good Samaritan Mission in Wimauma.
Their parents also left with a gift potentially even more valuable: introductions to local organizations offering free help that many never knew existed.
More than 1,500 students and parents turned out Aug. 9 for the outreach event, hundreds lining up under a sweltering sun for backpacks. There were free haircuts and nail treatments for the young scholars, many the children of migrant workers, and there were chances for parents to learn about programs that tackle the causes of long-term poverty.
“If it wasn’t for events like this, these kids would have a hard time in school,” said Maria, who didn’t want her last name used. “It would be harder for the kids to go to school if they didn’t have everything they need,” she said while waiting for a backpack with her two sons.
Addressing needs like book bags and haircuts is only a temporary solution to the long-term problem of poverty, according to event organizers. That’s why they enlisted area assistance agencies that can help alleviate the causes of long-term poverty.
Thirteen agencies, including The Children’s Board Family Resource Center of Ruskin and the Redlands Christian Migrant Association, showed up for the event, thanks to Anne Madden, community engagement coordinator at Good Samaritan.
“We wanted to give agencies who work in the Balm-Wimauma area a chance to connect with new clients,” Madden said. “We hope we are providing some basic school supplies for kids that would have trouble [getting them] otherwise.” In addition, she said, “I think I saw some good connections being made today between families that have needs and resources they didn’t know were available. The backpacks were the incentive to get people here, but we want to be the platform for people to make those connections because we cannot do everything.”
Thanks to a $7,500 grant from the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, Good Samaritan planned to supply 500 backpacks with basic supplies from Somebody Cares Tampa for children at the fair.
“My hope is that parents became aware of groups that are advocating on their behalf today,” said Theresa Cruz, who helps run Good Samaritan with her husband William.
If not for events like the Back To School Program, many children would “show up to school and put a great strain on the school system because they don’t have the supplies they need,” Cruz said. “They would go to school, many with great shame, because everyone else would have the equipment and tools to start school but they do not.”
Jackie Malone, a director at Directions for Living, a community mental health program, was among those making those connections.
New to Hillsborough County, the program has provided counseling to Pinellas County families for 30 years.
“It’s about catching families early (when they are suffering) the stressors of not having jobs or working long hours so we try to teach how to capture those quality moments and make the best out of those,” Malone said.
Latino Style was another group new to many parents. Based at the University of South Florida, the organization helps minority families develop communication skills to discuss sometimes difficult topics.
“Minorities in general have a higher risk of a lot of problems, so we provide a bridge between parents and teens on topics that might have been considered taboo like sexuality but also topics like violence, drugs and alcohol,” said Manuel Mayor of Latino Style.
Santiago, who didn’t want his last name used, brought all five of his children to the event.
“You have lots of people here who are immigrants, and it’s hard for them to find a job, so this helps out a lot. It’s great that there’s someone here in the community to help out,” he said.
For information on Good Samaritan call 813-634-7136 or visit www.gsmission.org.