Published: July 30, 2013
TAMPA - DeDe Grundel has 36 children to get ready to go back to school with uniforms, backpacks, paper, pencils, crayons, calculators and other items.
As executive director of Friends of Joshua House, Grundel is one of many social services organization staff members and volunteers trying to properly prepare foster children to return to classes.
Other agencies across the county also are assisting low-income families with the supplies they need, which total hundreds of dollars per child.
"What is the challenge is not all schools - or classes - have the same standard list," Grundel said. "It goes beyond the crayons and the pencils."
She said the 36 children in the care of Joshua House in Lutz attend several different schools, and each has its own uniform standard.
According to Kids Charity of Tampa Bay, which assists A Kid's Place in Brandon, there are 5,327 children in foster care in the area; 70 percent of them attend prekindergarten through high school.
There is no state funding for the school supplies, Grundel said. Organizations depend on school supply drives from individuals and corporations, as well as donations of cash and gift cards to stores such as Walmart, Target, Bealls, Sears and J.C. Penney. Volunteer shoppers then buy the supplies or uniforms.
Donors can go online to a registry to help dress a child by buying specific items and sizes, much like a wedding gift registry.
Grundel said she counts on organizations and supporters to help make the project possible.
Those supporters include B.J. and Mitchell Newberger, who donate every year and took it a step further this year through Mitchell's 75th birthday party earlier this month.
Guests received an email saying he didn't want gifts; but if they "insisted on doing something," they could bring school supplies for foster children.
The Lutz couple ended up with 12 backpacks, stacks of paper, numerous boxes of crayons, calculators, hand sanitizer and other supplies.
"This is so much better than a bunch of gag gifts," B.J. Newberger said, looking over the bounty in her Lutz home during the party.
Her husband added, "Wow, we got a lot; those kids need it."
Grundel said a Seminole Heights couple always has a Christmas in July party to which admission is a bag of school supplies or a $25 check.
The Hillsborough Education Foundation, meanwhile, helps teachers get supplies for at-risk students.
According to the foundation's newsletter, "56 percent of Hillsborough County Public Schools are classified as Title I. This means that 75 percent or more of the students at these schools are considered economically disadvantaged and may face challenges in purchasing basic school supplies."
The foundation sponsors the Teaching Tools Store, where teachers can get needed supplies.
"Unlike other back-to-school supply drives, which are focused on the first day of school, our goal is to provide students with the critical learning resources they need all year long," states the foundation's newsletter.