By Evan Glantz
Binders and backpacks. Pens and pencils. Just like that, the summer sun has given way to school supply season. But there are many schools and students in the St. Louis area that cannot afford new supplies each year. The people at KidSmart have made it their mission to assist those teachers and students in need.
“There are close to 100,000 kids in St. Louis that start school each year without school supplies, so our goal is to get them the supplies they need to start and get through the year,” KidSmart director of operations Brian Mann said. “In the past 10 years, we’ve put about $24 million worth of school supplies into the St. Louis schools, so it’s an ongoing mission.”
The mission began in 2002 in order to “empower children in need to succeed in school by providing them with the essential tools for learning.” Through an array of individual and corporate donors, KidSmart has a warehouse stocked full of supplies and educational materials. Here, teachers can peruse the aisles for items ranging from pens, pencils and markers, to calendars, staplers and first-aid items. They are allowed one shopping day per month August through May, a visit that Mann says typically results in the teachers receiving over $600 worth of supplies on average. In exchange for the shopping sprees, KidSmart asks teachers to volunteer at least three hours at the warehouse during the school year.
“Teachers are one of our great bases that we have working here,” Mann said. “They can see the product and really be involved in it, and the cause too.”
Companies and corporations play a valuable role in maintaining the continuity of KidSmart as time is just as big a donation as supplies. The St. Louis Rams recently offered assistance to the organization during their August staff day of service by helping pack boxes for teachers getting ready to start their school years.
“We have a great volunteer base system,” Mann said. “We have about 150 corporate groups that come in to do team-building exercises or group activities. People like it because number one, it’s a good cause. And number two, it’s also a good team-building exercise. We’ve got a great group of volunteers, and it’s a continually growing base. As people learn about KidSmart, they really want to be a part of it.”
It was not the first time the Rams teamed with KidSmart. In the past, the team has taken part in KidSmart’s “Push for Pencils” campaign, the largest school supply drive in Missouri. With the help of Rams fans, last year’s effort resulted in over 12,000 school supply items being donated to KidSmart at training camp practices and the team’s scrimmage.
In addition, the team also took part in the Joe Buck Celebrity Bee, a competition that tests participants’ knowledge of math, geography and science. Local celebrities and corporate teams compete against each other in this “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader”-themed competition. The Joe Buck Celebrity Bee is KidSmart’s signature fundraising event, bringing in more than one-third of the non-profit’s annual operating expenses and funds the grand re-opening of the back-to-school store each August. This year, linebacker
Due to the lack of air conditioning in the warehouse coupled with the extreme heat of recent weeks, KidSmart has employed a drive-through system for teachers looking to pick up school supplies. Pre-selected packs and boxes are filled with basic items needed to start the school year, and given to teachers as needed. Mann said that each box contains close to $1,500 worth of supplies and materials. In total, Mann said the organization will provide over $1 million worth of school supplies to teachers this August alone.
For Mann and the rest of the KidSmart organization, their warehouse provides resources to schools and students that are lacking in certain areas for a variety of reasons.
“When you think about families at the poverty level, and they’re trying to pay for rent and food and cars, school supplies kind of fall by the wayside,” Mann said. “But it’s such an important piece of the self-esteem and the learning part of a kid’s life that we feel like that’s really where our focus should be.”
According to Mann, KidSmart targets schools in which over 70 percent of the students are recipients of free or reduced lunches. Mann and his team estimate they served 57,000 students out of the 100,000 that meet the qualifications.
Visit http://www.kidsmartstl.org/ for more information about the ways in which you can contribute to KidSmart.