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Program helps families get ready for school

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Months after losing her fiance, a Greenwood mother had to start thinking about the school supplies her 5-year-old would need for kindergarten.

Brandi Moore, 29, had no idea what her son would need to start school or how she would pay for it. Her boyfriend, Brandon Rogers, died in November of heart disease, just before his 29th birthday. Now, Moore is trying to meet the needs of three young boys, ages 6 months, 3 and 5, who are now without the man they called dad.

Moore joined hundreds of other families this week at Clark-Pleasant Intermediate School to get some help with school supplies. Fast Track, a United Way program, will help about 2,400 local families get the school supplies their children will need to start school in the coming weeks.

Each child received about $30 worth of school supplies, including backpacks, notebooks and pens, that were donated. Families also got pizza, had the option of getting free haircuts and vision screening and could talk with officials from local organizations, such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Big Brothers, Big Sisters and Youth Connections. The program is a partnership between United Way and local school districts. The school districts send invitations to families they deem eligible for assistance, most who receive free- or reduced-price lunches, said Nancy Lohr Plake, executive director of United Way of Johnson County.

Parents are back to work after the 2008 recession, but many are receiving significantly reduced wages, compared with what they previously made, and some are struggling with high medical expenses, Lohr Plake said.

“They’re trying to make it at a lower income than what they did previously,” she said.

More than 800 Clark-Pleasant students received supplies at last year’s Fast Track event, said Bethany Guilfoy, an assistant principal at Pleasant Crossing Elementary School and co-coordinator of Fast Track for the school district. This week, several hundred went through the school auditorium and cafeteria to get needed school supplies.

How to help

Donations are still being accepted for the Fast Track program of the United Way of Johnson County. School supplies can be donated at Stuff the Bus events Aug. 9 at the following locations:

Franklin: Walmart, 2125 N. Morton St., 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Greenwood: Walmart, 1133 N. Emerson Ave., 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Kroger, 3100 Meridian Parke Drive, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Kroger, 2200 Independence Drive, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Trafalgar: McDonald’s, 706 W. Trafalgar Point Way, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Moore pushed her 6-month-old son Brandon in a stroller, while his brothers Brody, 5, and Bentley, 3, walked alongside. After going through the long line of distribution stations, Brody showed off his backpack full of supplies.

“It’s been very hard for us,” Moore said. “We’ve gone from two incomes to one. I wasn’t going to go back to work after this baby. He was going to be the sole provider.”

Moore had been working as a hospice nurse, but after Rogers’ death she hasn’t been able to return to that work and is instead working at a gas station, she said. The family is struggling financially, and Moore is still grieving the loss of her fiance. She knew she needed help getting her son ready to start school this fall.

“I wasn’t able to provide anything for him this year,” she said. “I had no clue what he would need going in. It’s my first kid going to school.”

Moore also was grateful for the other help at this week’s event, including the other organizations she could connect with.

“My boys definitely are going to need some type of male figure in their lives, so I definitely will look into Big Brothers Big Sisters, for instance,” she said.

“It is great how people take the time to do this for families in a situation like ours.”

Melonie Collings was in a long line of people outside the school 30 minutes before Tuesday’s program began. She was waiting with three of her six children.

“They provide a lot of essential and extra supplies that help make the back-to-school shopping experience a little more bearable, especially with as many children as we have,” Collings said. “They offer a lot of community programs and things that might help in your financial situation. After you’ve been sitting out here since 4, you’ve got hungry, crying kids, so it’s nice that they provide dinner as well.”

Collings, who has attended the program previously, estimated she saves $75 to $100 total on supplies for the three children she has attending school. She arrived early so her children could pick from a larger selection.

“You want your kids to have some of the cooler stuff if it’s available,” she said.

The Fast Track program is meant to help families financially and help students prepare for school, Guilfoy said.

“It helps kids if they don’t have to worry and feel awkward that they’re not prepared with the proper supplies compared to the kid sitting next to them,” she said. “We try to level the playing field as much as possible.”

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