Some 227 children in grades first through the eighth grade were given school supplies and sneaker gift certificates last week by Lehigh Community Services. Also, the fire department in Lehigh also provided back packs and school supplies to another 25 teenagers.
It was the annual Lehigh Community Services School Supply Giveaway, said Charlotte Rae Nicely, executive director of the agency that has been handing out school supplies for more than two decades.
School begins in Lee County on August 8 so parents and students are scrambling to get new clothes and school supplies for the first day of class.
Volunteer Jim Phebus with boxes of backpacks filled with school supplies.
"We know there are a lot of people in our community who need help due to the ongoing recession. This is one of the pleasurable events we do each year. It is great to see the excitement of the small children when they come with their parents," Nicely said.
She has been heading up the program for the five years she has been the executive director of Lehigh Community Services. Before her, Liz Eilf, who retired as director, carried on the program she created several years ago.
Helping Nicely at the agency's office at 201 Plaza Drive were employees, volunteers and others who were called runners. Nicely said the family first had to register to become a recipient of the school supply giveaway.
"Those that didn't were not likely to be able to get a school pack and supplies," she said. "But we told them to call us this week and see if we have supplies left over or if we have more supplies that are donated to the agency.
Nicely said that because of the difficult economic times this year, it has been hard for many to contribute money or supplies to the agency.
Nicely said that nearly all the backpacks filled with school supplies came from the Assembly of God church on Leonard Blvd.
"We are so appreciate for them. They do this every year and it is a blessing for us because they and their congregation always come through. It is part of their missions and it helps so many families in Lehigh," Nicely said.
Also helping this year were Lehigh firefighters. Brooke Ricciardi, an engineer with the Lehigh Acres Fire Department, said containers were set up in each of the fire stations in Lehigh and firefighters donated money to help high school students to get supplies.
"I took the money and went out shopping for the backpacks and other things a senior high school student would need," Ricciardi said. She was on hand to help pass out supplies to the older students and their families.
Nicely, who is known for her love for order, had the system worked out. The supplies were in another room and volunteer "runners" went to get the backpack and supplies. Those who qualified to get school supplies stood in line outside of the building at the rear entrance. Five families, often adults with their children, were brought in to the welcome table that was being worked by Senaida Guerrero, a Community Services staffer, and Mary Ross, a volunteer. Also on hand was Laurel Foryt of the Christ United Methodist Church, which provided more than 200 gift certificates for sneakers. After the families received their backpack and school supplies, they were escorted to Foryt who handed out the gift certificates for those qualified to buy sneakers at Walmart. The gift certificates, she said, were especially marked for the purchase of sneakers.
Jim Phebus, a retired travel agent and owner of a florist in Lehigh, is a mainstay at the annual school supply giveaway. He also helped to retrieve the school supplies and escorted the families out a back entrance before offering them free fresh bread.
"I really enjoy doing this each year," Phebus laughed. "It's like I wish I was back in school again." He has been volunteering his services on school supplies day for 15 years.
The school supply giveaway program began at 2 p.m. and lasted for an hour and a half on July 20.