CLEVELAND — In just a few weeks schools across Northeast Ohio will gear up for a new academic year. Some districts are choosing to send children back to the classroom, while others are opting for remote learning. Regardless of what they choose, thousands of children will need help buying school supplies and clothes.
According to data from the Center for Community Solutions, Cleveland’s child poverty rate is the worst of any large U.S. city.
That's where Shoes and Clothes for Kids, or SC4K, comes in, The 50-year old non-profit aims to provide all children in need with resources they need to succeed in school.
"One of our programs with our 28 neighborhood partners, we provide bags and various items to them six times a year for them to get out to families they know who need it best," said said executive director for the organization Terry Uhl. "
Uhl said though the start to this school year may look and feel different, the need is still there.
"If they're going to learn, they still need the supplies at home," he said. "Makes them feel like they're in a classroom and educational mentality by having a book bag with all the supplies."
Usually during this time of year, the supplies have been packed into backpacks and shipped out to their community partners for distribution, however, this year SC4K is facing its own challenges. To keep staff and volunteers safe, SC4K is not accepting clothes or school supplies in donation form. Rather, they are accepting cash to buy the necessary items.
"Particularly this time of where we could almost get a semester's worth of school supplies donated and stock the warehouse. We now need to raise the cash so we can continue to provide the same amount of schools. The needed supplies hasn't diminished even though the kids are learning at home," Uhl said.
And because they're only accepting cash, it's putting the packing process behind schedule. But Uhl said, with many schools starting later this year, it's giving staff and volunteers more time to buy items and pack them into backpacks.
"We are still in a crunch right now to make sure we have the clothing and school supplies ready," he said. "We're going to make it work, we always do, but it's just a different planning session and purchasing process this year."
This backpacks being distributed this year will include hand sanitizer, a mask and personal hygiene products. Uhl said community partners and teachers within the community said they will heavily rely on those items this year.
Research shows, the more students are prepared for school the more they will participate in class and look forward learning. In Cleveland, Uhl said, it also leads to better attendance.
"Through the tracking Cleveland school district does for us and the kids we serve, we've got data that shows that some of the kids, big part of the kids, improve their attendance up to 25% the month after they get all our stuff. It helps them get back into school and then the schools can help them with everything else," he said.
Uhl also said in addition to cash donations, SC4K is in desperate need of volunteers to help sort and pack.
"Our total volunteer hours over the course of the year are normally equivalent to seven or eight full time employees. Those are people we don't have to hire," he said. "We're struggling right now trying to get enough volunteers in to be ready for back to school."
If you'd like to make a donation to SC4K or volunteer, click here.