Community collects Tools for School

On a rain-soaked day last week, volunteers checked in and sorted hundreds of backpacks filled with back-to-school essentials that will soon pass to the hands of young students in need.

Community members filled the bags for students whose families are served by the Chesterfield-Colonial Heights Department of Social Services as part of the department’s annual Tools for School program.

“The best part of our job is … when they come in to see it,” said Chesterfield-Colonial Heights Department of Social Services Volunteer Coordinator Kathy Perun, who works with the program. “We love that. They just get so excited.”

As well as filling a backpack for a specific child, community members were able to donate money, gift cards and school supplies to the program, which will help about 900 children this year.

“The children that are taken care of, we know they qualify because they are receiving services from us,” Perun said. “I know that they’re in need.”

The program has been in existence for more than a decade, she said, and it’s grown significantly every year.

“This is really a family-friendly program for volunteering,” she said. A grandfather came in with his grandchildren to make a donation to the program, she said, and the children made cards for the recipients of the bags.

Among the biggest single donors are churches, several of which assemble 40 to 50 bags each year, she said. This year, an area hospital that’s typically contributed 30 to 40 bags is contributing more than 80 bags, she said.

“We are just thrilled,” she said. People from as far away as Glen Allen, where Perun lives, have donated bags, she said. “It really amazes me the amount of generosity we have. I love the people that help out every year.”

And donors aren’t the only ones who contribute every year; Perun has volunteers, including some in college, who return year after year to help sort and distribute the bags, she said.

Rebecca Snead, 19, is volunteering for the fourth time this year, she said.

“I really, really love seeing the kids when they get their bookbags,” she said. “They’re so adorable. … I like that I help them get off to the right start.”

Volunteer Brittany Jordan, 19, said it’s nice to be able to help the people that need it.

 “We’re giving them more than a bookbag,” Perun said. The students get confidence, she said, and something that’s their own. Fitting in with their peers and having that confidence is worth more than the cost of the bag and its contents, she said.

“We take each and every child seriously,” she said. “We want to make sure they’re set for the first day of school.”

The bags were set to be distributed Thursday and Friday, Perun said. In the weeks before school starts, the rest of the supplies will be distributed and “we’ll try to take care of more kids on the waiting list,” she said. At least another 100 children are on waiting lists.

People who would still like to donate supplies can call Perun at 751-4398 or e-mail her at perunk@chesterfield.gov.

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