MONDAY Q&A: Volunteer organizer seeks to educate public on Back to School Bash
As it has over the past five years, the Back to School Bash of Indiana County will distribute backpacks, clothing and school supplies to hundreds of county children who might not otherwise have them when they return to the classroom. Richard Smith, a volunteer organizer, has been involved with the bash for four years and recently talked with Gazette staff writer Mary Ann Slater about the program and its mission.
Question: What is the name of your program? Tell me about its mission.
Answer: We are the Back to School Bash of Indiana County. We serve all of Indiana County. Through our program, we are trying to provide school supplies so that low-income children can go to school with the supplies they need. There’s a backpack that has been filled up with various things. (See accompanying list.)
Also when parents call in to register their children, we ask for clothing sizes. We ask for donations of underwear and socks so children can go to school with new underwear and socks. And we ask for donations of used clothing – or if someone wants to buy new clothing — and the children can go through on the day of the event and see if they can find clothes they can use for school.
Question: When is the bash?
Answer: Aug. 17. We start people through starting at 9 a.m. and it goes on to 2 p.m.
Question: What organizations are involved?
Answer: There are many organizations involved. The cornerstone organizations are ICCAP (Indiana County Community Action Program), which is our fiduciary organization. They handle our money. … We are a nonprofit and we use their tax-deduction (status).
There is Calvary Presbyterian Church. We do the backpacks here. There is Graystone Presbyterian Church. We use their kitchen to serve a small luncheon on the day of the bash. We can also use their basement, and maybe Calvary’s basement, in case there is a rain date and we have to pull everything inside. Zion Lutheran Church is the third church, and that is where they have the clothing distribution.
All three churches are located in the 600 block of Church Street in Indiana. We close down Church Street and have the bash here.
The other cornerstone is The Salvation Army. We use their facility for pre-registration and we also The Salvation Army backpack program. It’s a national program that we order the backpacks through.
Organizers of the Back to School Bash say they are in need of donations of the following:
• Pencil boxes
• Kindergarten writing tablets
• Scissors (round tip only)
• Loose-leaf notebook paper
• 1-inch, three-ring binders
• Colored pencils
• Spiral notebooks
• Tabbed dividers
• Flash drives
• Felt tip markers
• Underwear and socks for boys and girls
Question: If your child needs help through the program, how do you sign up?
Answer: You can register at The Salvation Army (635 Water St., Indiana) up through Aug. 9.
Question: How many children do you typically serve?
Answer: Last year we registered approximately 650. We generally serve about 600 to 800 children in Indiana County.
Question: What families are eligible?
Answer: Families that are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
Question: How are you collecting the clothes and the backpacks?
Answer: Starting on July 22, Calvary (began) accepting school donations. Many churches throughout the Indiana County area — It is not just these three churches doing it all; there is no way possible we could do it all — will ask for donations from their congregations and will receive, like if they are doing a summer vacation Bible school, notebooks, pencils, pens, highlighters. The churches will bring them here (to Calvary) and we’ll sort through them and find out what we need.
We also receive some cash donations from individuals (to buy needed supplies that donations do not cover). It costs some to fill the backpacks. The (estimated) prices I’ve taken are off store websites. Most of these are not sale prices but standard prices. The backpack you can fill (with suggested supplies) for an elementary student is $51.47, and a secondary student — from grades 6 through 12 — is $89.97.
Question: Besides through a church, how can you donate to the program?
Answer: We have a couple of drop-off boxes (around the community). … We prefer they be used for just the school supplies.
If you have school supplies you want to drop off, you can go to Calvary Presbyterian Church. The entrance to the office is off of School Street. The address is 695 School St. Any gently used clothing you want to drop off, or if you want to purchase any socks or underwear for the children, take it to Zion.
Question: How long has the event been going on?
Answer: Five years.
Question: How long have you been involved with the program?
Answer: About four years. I got involved first because the place in which I work, Calvary Presbyterian Church, was one of the three main churches to allow the bash to use their facilities for the event. I got involved because I am the head sexton here, and anything to do with the property or the building, I am involved with.
The first year I only got involved on behalf of Calvary and then the next year I joined in and helped out with logistics and making sure there was plenty of everything … tables, chairs, making sure garbage cans were put in place.
Question: Why do you think the program is important for the community?
Answer: I think it is a very good program. That’s why I became involved with it. It’s one of those things, that, from my personal aspect, … the educational system has changed so much from the time I went to school. When I went to school, they gave you a tablet and a pencil maybe twice a year and that was all you’d need in supplies.
The list of supplies we have is quite extensive and it is all things that teachers would like the students to bring to school so if they want to do a craft, or if they want to do something else within their teaching program, the students will have the proper supplies. If they don’t, they are stuck sitting in this chair and having to ask the teacher or another student for supplies. Or else they can’t do the project.
And if the kids don’t have this material, they don’t really have a good opportunity to participate in the school and to learn. There’s a feeling like they are a bit of an outcast. That’s one of the reasons I believe in this project so much. I realize that not every child who is given a backpack is going to become an honor student. But maybe it will make the student have a better school year and feel better about themselves. Hopefully that will make a difference in their lives.
• EDITOR’S NOTE: Do you know someone who would be a great subject for the Monday Q&A? If so, please call Jason Levan at (724) 465-5555, ext. 270.
RICH SMITH, at a glance....
Residence: White Township
Where I grew up: Marion Center
Occupation: Head sexton at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Indiana
Family: Wife Sharon; children John, 23, and Lily, 16
Favorite food: Grilled salmon
Hobbies: I enjoy a variety of activities including woodworking and acting in community theater
Favorite movie: “Lord of the Rings” trilogy
Last book I read: “Feast for Crows,” by George R.R. Martin
Life goal: To learn something new every day
Something people don’t know about me: To exercise a creative side, I write “Harry Potter” fan fiction on the Internet