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Local Women Ensure Children Go Back to School with Full Backpacks

by Kelly Martini


Color pencils with abstract from text article.
Everett Elementary School received 200 backpacks full of school supplies including CD holders, files, folders, markers, pens, pencils, and notebooks donated by The Office Depot.
Image by:Women's Division
Source: Women's Division

When Mary Ann Bede retired as a sixth grade teacher from Everett Elementary School in Lincoln, Neb., her passion for children didn't cease. 

She and other women of Trinity United Methodist Women considered the diverse population of children in their community a "precious gift." 

So they were on the lookout for ways to help children from Everett Elementary school, a school two blocks from the Church with a diverse population that includes recent refugees and special education students. They collected soup labels to get funds for their school; shopped at Target, which gave 5% back to their school; bought prescriptions at stores supporting their day care; and invited neighborhood children to mentor and be included in their day care during the summer.  Then, she applied for another supportive school program:

 "I happened to be tooling around on the internet and found that The Office Depot had an adopt-a-school backpacks program.  I wrote an essay.  I waited, and I got a call a while later."  The essay was based on her experiences teaching sixth graders in an elementary school that welcomes children from all over the world -- Vietnam, Sudan, Kenya, and Ethiopia, among other countries. 

In her application, she discussed the actions her local United Methodist Women had been taking as part of a concern for their public school.

Among these actions, Ms. Bede's United Methodist Women unit sews "comfort bags" for the children of Everett.  In the bags, the women put chapstick, beanie babies, a story book, and other gifts.    If a child is traumatized in some way – a death in the family, a serious illness -- a teacher can give the child one of these comfort bags to help them remember their childhood in a trying situation.

She also wrote about the women helping children avoid embarrassing situations.  In schools throughout the nation, if a young child has an accident and can't make it to the bathroom, the school sends the child home.  For Everett children, the parents often are not there during the day.  So Everett United Methodist Women go shopping.

"We are real scroungers at garage sales.  We provide the schools with sweatpants and shirts, mittens, hats, coats... whatever they tell us they need.   The school has a shower and can give them these clothes if they have an accident," she says.  The women also provide mentoring, tutoring, English as Second Language classes, and pizza parties for the children.  In two years, they've baked more than 400 cookies for a teacher's appreciation table to say "thank you" and "we're supporting you."

The Office Depot must have liked what they were doing, Ms. Bede says, because this fall they are providing Everett Elementary School with 200 backpacks full of school supplies including CD holders, files, folders, markers, pens, pencils, and notebooks.  Ms. Bede estimates that their "adopted" school is receiving close to four thousand dollars worth of supplies for the children.

According to Ms. Bede, the effort of her United Methodist Women's unit and the essay to The Office Deport is because of their belief that the children in their community are a gift.  They share their ideas outside their community, not for recognition, but because "any of these things can be done by anyone."

United Methodist Women is a one-million member organization whose purpose is to foster spiritual growth, develop leaders and advocate for justice.  Members raise some $25 million a year for programs and projects related to women, children and youth in the United States and more than 100 countries around the world.

Date posted: Aug 08, 2005