Kara Ecoff and her sons.
October 15, 2018
Written by Meghan Marsden Parsche, United Way volunteer blogger
School supply shopping is an exciting experience, as kids stock up on the essentials that will help them learn and grow in the upcoming school year. But the cost of seemingly simple items like pencils, notebooks, glue sticks and markers can add up quickly. For some students, back to school supplies simply don’t fit in their family’s budget.
As a second grade teacher with Waukesha Public Schools, Kara Ecoff has first-hand experience with the challenges facing students who cannot afford school supplies.
“It’s so easy to find yourself in a situation where you need support,” says Kara. “Things like the loss of a job, a disability or divorce could leave you in a completely different financial situation than you were in the year before.”
This is why each year, when school supply shopping for her own kids, Kara would purchase additional school supplies for students who didn't have all their needed supplies.
“Many schools have a stash of school supply donations, but it’s often pretty limited,” she explains. “There are often supplies available, but they aren't always what is needed. There may be 100 rulers donated, but not many markers or notebooks.”
Two years ago when Kara’s son Andrew was working on his black belt in Taekwondo, she sought out opportunities for him to fulfill his volunteer requirement. On the United Way volunteer website, Kara was thrilled to find an opportunity that would not only allow her and her two sons to volunteer together, but would also allow them to help get school supplies in the hands of students who needed them.
Kara, Andrew and her younger son Elliot began volunteering with Backpack Coalition, which helps children from low-income families in Waukesha County participate and succeed in school by providing school backpacks and supplies. For two to four hours a week, they would volunteer in the warehouse, taking inventory of donations, sorting them and getting them ready for distribution. It was a manageable time commitment that had a big impact on Andrew and Elliot.
“It has certainly opened their eyes to the fact that not everyone has what we have,” says Kara. “It’s a very concrete example of something we have tried to teach them their whole lives, which is to be thankful for the ‘little things.’”
She says that her sons have enjoyed volunteering and are particularly happy to be part of a project that helps other kids.
This past year, Kara was able to experience other aspects of Backpack Coalition by taking part in a school supply collection at a Wal-Mart and by volunteering on distribution day, where she even got to see some of her former students.
“There was definitely an atmosphere of thankfulness and appreciation at the distribution,” she says. “It was really rewarding to be able to see the process come full circle.”
This year, over 5,000 backpacks were donated to kids in need. The Backpack Coalition reviews school supply lists to try to provide the most commonly-requested supplies. Supply lists vary quite a bit from teacher to teacher, but the backpacks represent at least 80% of items needed at each grade level.
Whatever your passion, the United Way has volunteer opportunity for you. Whether it’s a one-time event or a few hours each week, you can make a difference. Visit our website to learn more.