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Another helpful supply source

Backpacks, pencils, crayons, new shoes, haircuts … back to school expenses can add up quickly. For some families back to school time can be stressful. For the last four years, the East Missouri Action Agency has found a way to give assistance to families that may need help in getting those much needed school supplies.

The EMAA held their “Back to School Fair” on Aug. 1 at Central Elementary School in Park Hills. Twelve services were offered at the fair, including free haircuts from the staff of Trimmers, fingerprinting from the St. Francois County Sheriff’s Department, representatives from area public libraries as well as vision and hearing screenings. Each student was also given a gift card for Payless Shoe Source and, after visiting each of the stations, they were given the chance to pick out a backpack filled with school supplies appropriate for their grade.

According to Thelma Rawlins, community service representative for the EMAA, 476 students coming from all school districts in St. Francois County took part in this year’s fair.

The process begins early in the year for the staff of the EMAA. The parents are required to sign up in advance to determine if they are eligible to participate. It is then that the EMAA staff relies on the kindness of others to help make back to school time an easy time for these families.

“The money for the fair is raised several months in advance. The supplies are either donated or we purchase them with the monetary donations we receive. The shoe gift cards were purchased through a United Way grant we received,” stated Rawlins.

Cathy Poole, special project coordinator for the EMAA, watched as the anxious students came through the doors and into the gymnasium at the school.

“This is the fourth year for the back to school fair and this is the biggest one we have had so far,” she stated.

As the gymnasium filled with excited youngsters moving from table to table, EMAA Board of Directors member Gladys Edwards smiled as she watched the activity. Her job for the day was to be in charge of refreshments, but before her first “customers” arrived, she was reflecting on the kindness of others that made that day possible.

“(The people at) Big River Sand Drags helped to raise money for this event. They had special nights where those attending could donate toward the school fair,” she said. She even recalled how when her husband won a 50/50 drawing at the races she “made him donate it back for the fair.”

Door prizes were also given away at the event. Both businesses and individuals donated prize items, including a computer system donated by the Big River Hill Eagles in Bonne Terre. The staff at the EMAA also put together a large basket of items as a prize.

“We want to thank everyone who donated money, supplies or a prize and also thank those who helped with the fair,” said Rawlins.

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