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Groups collecting school supplies
Donations go across street, globe
Helping Hands 4 es
Clockwise from lower left, Emily Jones and Paxton Hetzel, both 10, Jacob Coffman, 8, Elizabeth Sullivan, 9, and Abigail Brown, 8, organize supplies for backpacks that youth at Cumming First United Methodist Church are sending to soldiers overseas. - photo by Emily Saunders

People can donate school supplies this summer to children as near as their neighbors or as far away as the Middle East.

School starts Aug. 11 and nonprofit organizations such as The Place of Forsyth County and Family Haven are hoping the economically disadvantaged will start the year motivated.

The organizations are collecting new items from the school supplies list for one-income and low-income families, grandparents raising their grandchildren and parents that have been laid off work.

In addition, the Transition Center, housed in the school system's registration office off Elm Street, will take donations starting July 22. The center helps parents whose first language isn't English register and stay involved in their children's academics.

Cumming First United Methodist Church is accepting donations for soldiers to give to children in Iraq and Afghanistan.
All of the collecting agencies are requesting new supplies.

"One of the things that we feel is very important for children is that they start the new year with a new backpack, and new supplies, and they can start out on a very positive note," said Sandy Beaver, executive director of The Place.

Last year, she said, the organization gave away 300 backpacks filled with supplies. Beaver estimated that buying all the items on a school supplies list costs about $50.

While Forsyth is among the wealthiest counties in Georgia, there is still a demand for donated goods. Last school year, about 4,500 of 31,000 students enrolled qualified for the free and reduced lunch program, school system figures show.

Kerry Rosewall with Family Haven, a temporary shelter for battered women and their children, stressed the need for new supplies.

"We want them to feel like regular kids," Rosewall said. "The one thing we don't want them to have to worry about is school supplies."

Because Family Haven's housing is temporary, Rosewall said, there's no real way to project how many donated packs they will need. The facility can house up to 18 residents at a time.

Donations will be used throughout the year as clients come and go. In the past, The Place has never run out of backpacks for needy families, she said. The economic downturn, however, is making nonprofit workers leery.

"This is something all of the nonprofits are very cognizant of, the issues of donations being down," Beaver said. "So it's going to be a challenging year for nonprofits.

"But Forsyth County residents have always been very supportive of us, so I'm hopeful."

First Methodist will give any donations not sent overseas to The Place.

The church plans to mail about 400 backpacks loaded with school supplies to Iraq and Afghanistan. Several soldiers in their congregation are serving overseas.

A children's service camp sifted and organized the supplies last week.

Neida Streit, who heads up the ministry "We are His Hands," said being poor in another country isn't the same thing as being an impoverished American.

Streit, a U.S. Air Force veteran, toured the Middle East in the 1980s as an Arab linguist.

Schools in Afghanistan and Iraq, she said, are basically tents or ruins with tarps over them.

"You would have four kids sharing one pencil and piece of paper. We just can't relate to that," she said. "They have to live in buildings that aren't whole any more and that's all they have. It doesn't have anything to do with their economics."