Joe Blundo: Backpack project wants to help teachers


By Joe Blundo - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (TNS)



Melanie Huber has stories that could melt the coldest heart.

She teaches special-needs children at Cedarwood Elementary School on the South Side of Columbus. Most of her students come from low-income homes.

One child arrived at school without shoes because it was his brother’s turn to wear them. On her lunch break, Huber went out and bought him a pair.

Another child cried on the last day of classes before summer break because he preferred school to his chaotic home. To ease his distress, she gave him some of the classroom Legos she bought with her own money.

“I couldn’t stand the thought of him being home all summer with nothing to do,” Huber said.

Give these kids a box of crayons, a ruler and a pair of scissors, and they are amazed.

“They’ll say: ‘These are mine? All mine?’”

It’s time again for my annual plea on behalf of the Tom Fennessy/Mike Harden Back to School Project. The small-time operation does an increasingly big thing: It fills thousands of backpacks, loaded with school supplies, for kids throughout central Ohio.

The project, named for two Dispatch columnists who championed the poor, needs about $85,000 to meet its goal of giving away 10,100 backpacks this year, an increase of 800 from last year, said Terri Leist, president of the nonprofit organization. Because the Back to School Project buys in such large quantities, it can purchase a backpack and fill it with supplies for $7, so your contribution will go a long way.

In 21 years, the organization has donated well more than 100,000 backpacks. This year, the organization also hopes to buy supplies that can be donated to teachers, who often spend their own money to outfit classrooms.

“If we can minimize the financial impact on the wallets of teachers,” Leist said, “then we want to try to do that as well.”

Huber, who has been teaching for 31 years and has volunteered with the back-to-school project, estimated that she has 50 containers of supplies that she bought for her classroom. And it doesn’t end there.

“I’ve bought shoes, coats. As a matter of fact, right now my husband and I are fostering one of the kids in my class.”

Her students have physical, mental and emotional problems to go along with the challenges of poverty. Sometimes she hands out little gifts when the school day ends for no other reason than these children don’t see a lot of generosity in their lives.

“We made it through the day,” Huber tells them. “Here, let’s just have a prize.”

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By Joe Blundo

The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (TNS)

Joe Blundo is a columnist for the Columbus Dispatch.

Joe Blundo is a columnist for the Columbus Dispatch.

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