TribLIVE – Kamik Kharel is excited to start first grade at McAnnulty Elementary in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District.
Thanks to nonprofit South Hills Interfaith Movement’s back-to-school celebrations, held Aug. 12-16, Kamik, 5, already has a bright green backpack filled with folders, pencils, markers and all the supplies he needs for school.
“Why are you excited to go to school? To play?” his mother, Jamuna Subedi, 38, of Baldwin Borough, asked the youngster.
“Um no, to learn math!” he exclaimed, as he riffled through the backpack, showing off item after item that he plans to use in school.
SHIM has hosted back-to-school celebrations for more than 20 years, providing supplies for families who can use assistance during what organizers say can be a financially straining time of year for parents.
During three celebrations, hosted at various locations across the South Hills, SHIM distributed more than 1,000 backpacks and school supply kits, donated by CentiMark Corporation.
Children from kindergarten through 12th grade also could pick out extra supplies they might need from the line.
“This is open to anybody who self-identifies as having a need,” said Molly Patterson, operation coordinator. “We don’t turn anyone away.”
At the events, there were no checks for income level or need. If parents felt they needed the extra help with school supplies, they were welcome.
The events were targeted towards children in the Baldwin-Whitehall, Bethel Park, Keystone Oaks, Mt. Lebanon, South Park and Upper St. Clair school districts.
On Aug. 12 during a program held at the Pleasant Hills Community Presbyterian Church, a bus transported families from Baldwin United Presbyterian Church and the surrounding neighborhood to ensure everyone had a chance to get supplies.
The Presbyterian church also offered games and snacks for the kids. UPMC also had a table where they distributed toothbrushes and dental hygiene information.
The idea is to let kids shop for new items their parents might not otherwise be able to afford.
Patterson said she hopes this gives the kids a boost of confidence when they head back to class.
Organizers each year see families from all ends of the South Hills, said Courtney Macurak, director of programs. “Hopefully, we’re reducing some stress on families,” she said. “It’s expensive to get ready for back-to-school.”
New this year kids are receiving earbuds. Due to increases in technology in schools, many are asking kids to bring them to class.
Mandy Elm, a volunteer on Aug. 12 who helped families shop, works as a third-grade teacher at Whitehall Elementary.
Elm often sees kids coming to school on their first day loaded down with supplies. She couldn’t imagine, she said, being a child who showed up with nothing.
“For them to come to school with a book bag full of supplies, it makes them, I think, feel more comfortable around their peers and helps them with their basic necessities,” she said. “We’re asking them to come to school and learn and they need all of their basics (to do that).”
For Subedi, who lived in Nepal for nearly two decades before coming to the U.S. in 2010, getting the supplies for free allows her family to save their money for other purchases they need to make.
“We are very excited we don’t have to spend money on them,” she said. “Sometimes it helps for a whole year.”