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A group of former and current educators in Farmington are starting a new program to address the concern of elementary students not being able to afford school supplies at the start of the school year.

Advocates of Operation School Supply (OSS) met recently to coordinate on how to reach the community and area businesses to fill a need. Crystal Vandiver, an OSS trustee explained to the group the impetus behind starting the organization.

“Over 52 percent of our students are on the free and reduced lunch program,” she said. “There’s more people out there in need than there are that are not. In elementary school, somewhere between 65-70 percent of our families are living in poverty.

"You’re asking those families to buy school supplies to start the first week of school and that can range from $25 up to $50 depending on the grade level and needs. If they have one child that’s not bad, but if they have two or three it becomes an issue.”

According to Vandiver, students attending classes without the necessary supplies puts a strain on the teachers budget in elementary classrooms.

“From my viewpoint as a teacher I feel guilty asking for it, but the school district has limited funds for each classroom,” she said. “They do not have the funds to give us to buy for every single student — maybe enough for five or six — but not for 25 students.

"Every year it seems it gets a little more troublesome for the families and I estimated that about 50 percent of my kids showed up with supplies last year. That comes out of the teacher’s budget and we’re trying to figure out where to get that money.”

Trustee Sheryl Robinson conceived the idea of reaching out to the public and businesses for assistance in supplies or money to help alleviate the problem. She explained that teachers often pay out of their own pocket for school supplies, sometimes creating a strain on their own finances.

“Missouri ranks 42nd in teacher’s salaries,” she said. “A lot of times, teachers feel the need to use their own money, but our teachers themselves have families and they have to buy the school supplies also. I think it’s a big way that we can give back to our schools and help people in a lot of different ways.”

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Robinson hopes that Operation School Supply will help the schools improve kindergarten and preschools and up to fourth grade in St. Joseph and also St. Paul. They are not yet planning to assist the fifth grade or higher.

Attendees at the meeting were given a packet to assist them in answering questions from the public and a list of potential business contacts. Vandiver explained the immediate goals that are necessary for their plan to succeed.

“Our main goal is to get that basic supply list covered, so that we can tell those parents when they come in all they need is a backpack,” she said. “If you can clothe your kid and send them with a backpack, that’s awesome. If they can’t even get a backpack, we have other resources we’re going to for that.”

Vandiver explained that even though the group acts as a part of the Farmington Education Foundation, the other Farmington area schools will be included in the program. The church schools were also experiencing the problem of elementary students lacking necessary supplies.

“We would like to include St. Joseph and St. Paul in that,” she said. “Most people think that parents pay their tuition, that they don’t need it. However, if you talk to St. Joseph and St. Paul, they have a lot of kids there on scholarship. They have kids in need also.”

Robinson added that the group would also make up baskets of supplies for home schooled children.

The donations are tax-deductible and the group will supply donors with a tax form. All donations will go directly to school supplies.

Donations for Operation School Supplies can be dropped off at any Farmington elementary school. Monetary donations can be mailed to: Farmington Education Foundation-Care of: Operation School Supply.

For more information about OSS, go to: www.facebook.com/OperationSchoolSupplyFarmington; operationschoolsupply@gmail.com; or contact Sheryl Robinson 573-631-7490.

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Mark Marberry is a reporter for the Farmington Press and Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3629, or at mmarberry@farmingtonpressonline.com.

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