Local students get help gearing up for school

By: Jessica Strachan | Southfield Sun | Published July 24, 2013

SOUTHFIELD/LATHRUP VILLAGE  — Back to school season is around the corner, and while young ones may be embracing summer in full swing, community members are thinking ahead to a big challenge: making sure all families are prepared for the first bell to ring.

According to the National Retail Federation, the average person with children in grades K-12 will spend $95.44 on school supplies this year.

“We want to send our kids back to school with full bellies and full backpacks for them to be best prepared for success,” said Beth Dryden, director of public affairs for Charter One in Michigan. July 22 kicked off a campaign to collect school supplies, along with non-perishable food items, until Aug. 9.

“When we have one in five children living in poverty in Michigan, it’s very important that we are looking to make a difference in the future of these children and our state.”

The bank is working with other branches to collect supplies to prepare 2,000 backpacks in the Gear for Grades initiative. The backpacks will be distributed with their partner, Gleaners Community Food Bank.

Items like child-safe scissors, glue sticks, rulers, crayons, pens, pencils, notebooks and folders are being collected at the Lathrup Village branch, located at 27777 Southfield Road.

Other companies, like DENSO International America Inc., host events like the Stuff the Bus drive to donate to Southfield Public Schools, set for August.

“Last year, (DENSO) employees stuffed a bus with nearly 5,000 donated school supplies, from backpacks and binders to calculators and colored pencils,” said Robert Townsend, director of external affairs for DENSO, adding that last year was the first year the company took part.

“Stuff the Bus is just one way we can make a difference and help students prepare for a successful school year. It’s also been a great way to engage our employees with Southfield schools and get them involved in the community. It’s another way they can impact the future and society.”

Next month also brings the district’s annual Back to School Fair, set for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 10 on the football field of Southfield High School, which helps the parents and students around Southfield and Lathrup Village ease into a new school year with health services, school representatives and free book bags, set in a carnival-like atmosphere.

“It’s exciting to kick off the year in this way by providing valuable resources for students and families,” Wanda Cook-Robinson, superintendent of Southfield Public Schools, said in the event announcement. “We look forward to the fair as an opportunity to help our students prepare for the new school year and get focused on learning.”

Jacqueline Robinson, spokes-person for the district, said last year that the response from the community was overwhelming, especially for accepting the school supplies, and that with 60 percent of the families eligible for free or reduced meals in the district now, preparing students for the school year is an even bigger focus.

This year, the district hopes to partner with several local companies to offer even more giveaways at the free Back to School Fair, she added.

Beginning at noon Aug. 3, The Cellular Connection, located at 20000 W. 10 Mile Road in Southfield, will be giving away between 100 and 150 free backpacks stuffed with school supplies to families who come in, no questions asked.

Store manager Antoine Baldwin said they will be looking for familiar faces of customers and new faces; basically, any student who could use the help.

“It feels good to be part of this,” Baldwin said. “It’s not about making money on this day, but about putting our culture of doing good out there.”

TCC, the largest Verizon retailer in the U.S., has more than 400 stores nationwide participating in the School Rocks Backpack Giveaway as part of their “culture of good” company values.

Ryan McCarty, director of employee and customer relations at TCC’s corporate office in Indiana, said the effort creates buzz in each local community.

“We really wanted this to be grassroots. We wanted the backpacks to go to the kids who really need them most, so we’ve been working with local organizations to spread the word,” he explained. “We’ve also found a creative way to include customers, so it feels like a partnership.”

That idea was to ask customers to “round up” to the nearest dollar when making a purchase. Since doing so, Baldwin said, the Southfield store has collected a couple hundred dollars in increments of pocket change. McCarty said the simple gesture allowed locals to support the cause, too.

“It was a neat idea, more about the message than the money … to show customers that they are more than shoppers; they are part of the community doing good with us.”

For more information on district-wide initiatives, visit www.southfield.k12.mi.us.