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Molly Wolf who writes at Scrambling Towards Zion reflects on giving out backpacks for school children. Many churches prepare backpacks of school supplies or food for the weekends in this time of budget cuts and unemployment. What is your experience of this project? Wolf writes:

I got my two in a couple of days before the deadline, huffing them in from the car to the dusk-dim church kitchen, where the others stood lined up like so many dwarf goblins on the long counters and tables. I couldn’t remember how many we’d pledged to do up this year, but the number “40? stuck in my mind. If that was right, this was no inconsiderable chunk o’ change.

When the neo-con Ontario government did its level best to strangle the public school system, back when my own kids were in elementary school, one of the “frills” it cut was school supplies. No more free pencils. That little job got handed off to parents: pencils, pens, school binders, report covers, erasers, markers, scissors, the whole stationary store, all loaded (together with lunch bag and water bottle) into school backpacks, which also have to accommodate the second pair of shoes required for classroom wear. All paid for by parents.

Since said neo-con government also slashed welfare payments, this has turned into a Major Problem for poor families.

My church is a-swarm with teachers, mostly elementary school, many retired, some still working, and so it was an obvious thought to assemble school backpacks for the needy kids at our local elementary school. We’ve done this yearly for about the last three-four years, and the number of packs we send goes up a bit each summer. The school tells us what’s needed. There is a sign-up sheet, divided by gender and grade group (primary, junior, intermediate, covering grades 1 to 8). The church itself kicks in any shortfall. I always sign up for two; this year, for the first time, I’d got intermediate girls, Grade 7 and 8.

Who knows why they’re poor, whether their families are deserving or un-, if there’s drinking or smoking or drugs or order-in pizza in the house? Kids aren’t answerable for their parents’ lack of economic common sense, even if that’s part of the problem (and in this economy, it often isn’t). It doesn’t change the need for those required indoor shoes. We can’t just write the need off as someone else’s responsibility or try to hand it back to the schools (already underfunded) or to the government. The kids need erasers, period. Also scientific calculators, math sets, and coloured pencils (decent quality; the cheap ones are useless).

I get cranky with those for whom the poor — or the rich, for that matter — blur into a de-humanized mass of disposable units, like so many disposable Bic pens. These kids are people, beloved by God, each one utterly unique and valuable beyond price. We should be sinking everything we’ve got into treasuring each child, ensuring that he or she has what she needs, dealing promptly with learning disabilities, bringing out their gifts. Elementary school is, after all, a kid’s first full-time job, lasting (to completion) from age 4 or 5 to 18, and it is a huge determinant of the kid’s sense of self. It is at least as important as parenting, I believe, and if we blow off the job, we pay for our failure later, although probably not as heavily as the kids do.

But then, children are a long-term investment and our society doesn’t think in those terms. Bottom line now, that’s what matters: max those profits, and if that means cutting back on social services, well, something’s gotta give, doesn’t it? And that something is not going to be my wallet. Besides, the poor should simply haul their socks up and get richer: easy. So those who already have most get more at the expense of those who have less, claiming that this trend just proves how much smarter and harder-working they are. How they justify this state of things, especially if they’re Christian, is a thing I do not understand and don’t want to. Probably they don’t need to justify, believing that prosperity is its own justification. This is a position that likely gives God the divine equivalent to the collywobbles, but I’ll leave that up to Herself to deal with. And She certainly will.

Yes, some will abuse charitable giving, just as some abuse our much-abraded social safety net, but I’m with Lettice Lady Falkland who, when her friends accused her of encouraging layabouts by her philanthropy, replied “with spirit”: “I know not their hearts. I had rather relieve five unworthy Vagrants than that one member of Christ should go empty away.” I’m not even so particular about the recipient’s faith identity.

The girls who get my back packs will have no idea who bought the stuff, nor should they, and they are not obliged to shine academically or behave like little ladies because they have received my charity. Ideally, they won’t lose all the pencils before the end of September, but how am I to know?

Read it all here.


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David O'Rourke

Approximately 40% of inmates held in state and federal prisons in the US do not have a high school diploma or a GED. Considering the annual cost to incarcerate someone (over $30K a year is a good guess), not to mention their lost productivity in society, we can pay now to better educate our children, or we can pay later.


We’ve had a backpack and supply program for several years now. We have a “back pack and supply” blessing event at the most-attended Sunday Service just before school commences.

We make it a big deal….’cuz it is!

…and don’t get me started on how we “diss” education…I get purple…I was not aware that it is a trans-national problem…it’s the same in Canada now???

Kevin McGrane

Bill Dilworth

The entire school finance system in the United States is a shameful betrayal of our supposed national interest in and concern for our children as the “future of the nation.”

Sarah Lawton

So, my son’s middle school (in San Francisco Unified, our public system) has had to have a paper drive two years running because they have run out of paper by October. Last year we collected 1,000 reams from parents to get through the year.

As for pencils, binders, pens, compasses for math, strong locks for both hallway and gym lockers, and the like? Ha. That is certainly put onto the families. Kids are *expected* to bring these on their own, and are sometimes penalized if they don’t bring their supplies. Well over half of our kids qualify for free or reduced lunch, so this is no small burden. Also, each child has to pay for a set of gym clothes. Oh, and contribute something to field trips.

We have shifted the burden of educating our children to families who can least afford it. Our schools are cut to the bone. We’ve had a week of “furlough” days for the last two years. Guidance counselors (1 per 300, perhaps soon to be 500, students) help to answer the phone and take attendance. We’re down to about $4,000 per child, per year. And that covers staffing ratios for special needs classrooms, hard-of-hearing/deaf classrooms and ESL classes as well as general education classes.

I could go on! I just hope my fellow voters in CA pass at least one tax revenue measure this fall, or we’ll be looking at up to a month of so-called “furlough” days, meaning the kids will lose even more days, perhaps up to a month.

It’s back to school tomorrow, so this is very much on my mind.


“Many churches prepare backpacks of school supplies”

And I thought this was MY parish’s clever, useful outreach effort. D’oh! O_o

JC Fisher

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