More than 56,000 children in Fairfax County Public Schools – including those in Centreville and Chantilly – receive free or reduced-price meals. And the prospect of buying backpacks and school supplies for them is stressful for their families, especially when they’re struggling to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.
So for the 12th year, nonprofits Western Fairfax Christian Ministries (WFCM) and Kids R First are partnering to ensure that these children receive the supplies and backpacks they need to succeed in school. And this time, the Westfields Business Owners Assn. (WBOA) is also providing valuable assistance.
“We’ve been a longtime partner with WFCM, and a critical part of helping our extended community is to respond to needs such as these,” said WBOA President Bill Keech Jr. “So we’re proud to help this organization. But we couldn’t do it without the help and support of our Community Involvement Committee and all its volunteers and members.”
EACH YEAR, WFCM provides new, quality backpacks for students in need in western Fairfax County, courtesy of the generous donations from local churches, businesses, community groups and individuals. Kids R First (KRF) provides the school supplies.
In 2018, the all-volunteer KRF spent $17,143 on supplies for students in 20 Centreville and Chantilly schools. But because of partnerships with Walmart and Guernsey Office Supplies, each dollar was able to buy $4 worth of supplies. So by spending an average of $3.03 per student, KRF was able to provide these schools with $68,572 worth of supplies.
This year, hoping to expand into other areas and help even more schools, it asked the recipient schools to chip in their “fair-share” cost. That amount was based upon the percentages of students in each school’s free or reduced-price lunch program – typically, 15 or 20 percent of the cost of their supplies.
“But the schools aren’t allowed to fundraise,” said KRF founder and CEO Susan Ungerer, a 23-year, retired, FCPS teacher. “So that’s when [WFCM Community Outreach Manager] Jennie Bush asked Bill if he could help.”
The total shortfall amount needed to purchase the school supplies for each of the Centreville and Chantilly schools ranged from $23-$354 and totaled just $2,858. So, courtesy of the WBOA’s Community Involvement Committee, Keech presented WFCM with a check to fill the financial gap so that the 7,284 students in need in these schools will get their supplies.
Happy to lend a hand, Keech said, “We look for these types of opportunities where we can have a direct impact on kids’ lives.”
Previously, KRF was able to sell $5 raffle tickets to teachers and staff, with each ticket sold able to be leveraged for $20 worth of school supplies. “But FCPS changed its guidelines and no longer supported the raffle tickets, so we had to come up with a different plan,” said Bush. “So I asked Susan if she’d buy the school supplies, even if the money came from a source other than the schools, and she said yes.”
The result was a pilot School Supply/Backpack Program between WFCM, KRF and the WBOA so that no child in the local area will fall through the cracks and be unprepared for the first day of school. And this is important, said Bush. “Results and research show that, when adequately equipped, school children have a more positive feeling of self-worth, are more attentive in class, have improved classroom behavior, and achieve higher test scores in all academic subjects,” she explained.
Bush also noted that, “For the past five years, the WBOA’s Community Involvement Committee has given WFCM $1,000 to fill in the gap needed to buy backpacks when there was a shortfall from the donor churches or the community. So this year, I asked the CIC if, instead, they’d contribute that amount toward the school supplies. And the more I explained how many schools and students it could help, it decided to meet the full shortfall amount of $2,858.”
Saying she hopes this pilot program will continue, Bush stressed that all the business tenants of the Westfields Corporate Center in Chantilly contribute to the WBOA’s charitable donations. “WFCM is just one of the community organizations it supports,” she said. “So we’re fortunate that they chose to help us meet the needs of these students.”
UNGERER said KRF sends each school a list of 27 different supplies it can furnish for each grade level. The teachers then select which items they need. So, for example, students at Virginia Run Elementary can have different supplies than those at, say, Centre Ridge Elementary.
“Each school gets a custom order, and students receive their supplies before school starts,” said Ungerer. “It levels the playing field for children in need and gives them the opportunity to be successful when they begin school. As a teacher, I saw how devastating it was for students who came to school without supplies. Therefore, when I founded Kids R First in 1998, I wanted to make certain that no students would go without.” Indeed, when she began her company, she was able to help 450 students. Now, 21 years later, it’s provided school supplies for 360,500 students.
Furthermore, said Bush, “One of the reasons this is so important to WFCM is that KRF is serving our clients’ children in this pilot program. So we really appreciate the CIC coming through for us.”
In addition to helping provide supplies for the 20 schools, WFCM is also continuing its annual Backpack Program that furnishes new backpacks for students in need in all 24 FCPS elementary, middle and high schools in western Fairfax County. But it can’t do it alone, without help from the community.
How to Help
Donate New Backpacks – They should be appropriately sized, quality backpacks. No wheels, sling or messenger bags, or corporate logos.
Deliver Backpacks to collection sites at participating churches or businesses. Or bring them to WFCM, 4511 Daly Drive, Suite J, in Chantilly, July 15 through Aug. 16, Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Bring backpacks to the back door.
Donate money to WFCM to purchase backpacks at www.wfcmva.org or mail checks payable to WFCM to P.O. Box 220802, Chantilly, VA 20153.
For more information, contact Jennie Bush at email@example.com or 703-988-9656.