Help for students available from Caring & Sharing

MARY POSANI, ThisWeek Community News

In August, more than 50 million students nationwide will be heading back to school. Of the millions, about 15,000 will enter Westerville City Schools with backpacks full of new school supplies for the first day of school on Aug. 13.

The backpacks, new outfits and necessary school supplies, however, could cost parents an average of $635, according to 2013 statistics from the National Retail Federation.

Westerville Caring & Sharing, a volunteer organization that helps families within Westerville City School District, eases the expenses for struggling families by providing school supplies, backpacks and hygiene products with its Back to School Program.

"All children should be able to start school on an even playing field," said Mary Pugh, Westerville Caring &Sharing co-vice president. "It is important to have new school supplies and new outfits. It does wonders for the self-confidence."

For more than 30 years, Westerville Caring & Sharing has helped families with its Back to School Program. Each year, the organization helps approximately 300 students. Pugh expects these numbers to increase, too.

"We definitely want to reach the children we can help," she said.

Parents must apply for the program and show proof that they live in the Westerville City School District and proof of income. Families that fall within the same guidelines as the district's free and reduced-price lunch program can qualify for the Back to School Program.

The organization also assesses potential clients on an individual basis who may need additional help, such as a parent who recently became unemployed or may be recovering from surgery.

Those circumstances are few, but Westerville Caring & Sharing wants to help any struggling family.

"The majority of our clients have two working parents but have low wages and struggle," Pugh said. "When you have two or three children at school time and trying to buy one outfit for each child, it's really hard."

Westerville Caring & Sharing collects new school supplies, new backpacks, monetary donations and hygiene products to help students return to school clean and confident. Pugh says all donations will find a home, regardless of grade level.

Though the program helps students acquire needed school supplies, volunteers hope that donations will help students' overall self-confidence.

"I don't think you can be successful without self confidence," Pugh said. "We want to let these children to know that they are special and that we care about them."

Parents can apply for Caring & Sharing's Back to School Program by visiting volunteers from 4 to 6 p.m. July 19 at the Westerville Public Library's conference room, 126 S. State St.

Residents can send donations to help support the program to Westerville Caring & Sharing at P.O. Box 970, Westerville, Ohio 43086.