Little Red Schoolhouse helps students stock up

back to school: Event helps kids, parents get all the essentials for the new school year

lpemberton@theolympian.comAugust 17, 2012 

OLYMPIA – Krista Fracker showed up at 4 a.m. Thursday to secure at spot in line at the Little Red Schoolhouse’s event at Capital High School.

And she was No. 99.

But Fracker said the six-hour wait was worth it. She left with a new backpack, a winter coat and a bag filled with basic school supplies for her daughter, Piper, who will be a third grader at Hansen Elementary School in Olympia.

“It just really helps out a lot,” the single mother said. “I feel really overjoyed.”

In 2011, the Little Red Schoolhouse Project outfitted 3,097 students with backpacks, school supplies and clothing.

“We’re probably looking at 3,400 this year,” said volunteer Barbara McLean, 76, of Tumwater.

The Olympia-based nonprofit was formed in 1991 by residents and representatives from local social service agencies, churches and businesses. It collects cash, school supplies and clothing year round, although most people donate during the month of August.

This year, the organization was able to give about $25,000 worth of school supplies, and about $10,000 worth of backpacks, said committee member Cheryl Huffman.

It also offered coats and outfits for children. Most of the items were from area school lost-and-found bins, and were sorted and washed before the event, placed on hangers and organized by size on racks similar to those found in retail stores.

“This helps us big time,” said Mike Wertz, 39, of Tumwater, who has four children in the Tumwater School District. “It’s a great feeling to get that extra boost.”

About 200 volunteers turned out to help support the event, including 16-year-old Justin Bishop of Olympia. The Capital High School junior spent about eight weeks washing and folding clothes for the effort as part of his Eagle Project for Boy Scouts. He also helped recruit other volunteers, set up and staff the 10-hour event.

“It’s a really good opportunity for everyone to get service time in, and it really helps the community,” Bishop said.

McLean has volunteered with the Little Red Schoolhouse Project for 17 years. Because she also cooks for the Salvation Army and volunteers with the orthopedic association for Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital, she decided that this would be her last year with the Little Red Schoolhouse.

It’s a tough loss for the organization, said volunteer Judy Kimeldorf.

“She’s kind of our base,” said Kimeldorf, a retired Komachin Middle School teacher. “She’s the person we go to for history. She’ll do anything.”

When McLean began with the Little Red Schoolhouse, it was serving 1,200 students a year.

“We’ve grown every year,” she said. “It’s sad to see that there’s so much need in our community. I don’t think we think of ourselves as a poor community.”

McLean said her favorite part has always been watching kids choose a winter coat, or other clothing item, that they get to keep.

“I’ve loved it,” she said. “...(It’s) helping kids go back to school with pride – to feel good about themselves. We don’t want kids bullied or picked on for something they don’t have.” 360-754-5433 @Lisa_Pemberton

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