Next Thursday on the first day of school, Aug. 8, hundreds of children from Lehigh Acres will be all decked out with new back packs filled with new school supplies with many wearing new sneakers that were all provided by Lehigh Community Services and its helpers.
Rae Nicely, executive director of Lehigh Community Services, said that this year some 474 students were eligible and were given back packs filled with school supplies.
"I believe it is the largest number ever that we have given out in all the years here at Lehigh Community Services," she said. Family had to qualify for their children to receive back packs and school supplies and the official for getting them at the 201 Plaza Drive office was on Friday July 18.
"It was a rainy day and a lot of the parents and their children got drenched in the rains, waiting outside. We let in five at a time as they was all we could handle, but we got them through as fast as we could with the help of volunteers here who went to the back to fetch the right back pack or book bag for the different students.
Because of the heavy downpours, not all of the parents and their children came to get their back packs, but Nicely said they came the following couple of days as the back packs were saved for their pickup.
Nicely said each family that needed help due to Great Recession had applied for assistance in the program which has been carried out by Lehigh Community Services for decades, long before Nicely became its executive director. In the past years, back packs were provided mainly by one church and some individuals.
But the demand for back packs this year was so heavy that others stepped in to help. And Nicely said it all would not have been possible with their help and assistance.
"We received 150 or so from BB&T Bank, 200 from New Life Assembly Church, 120 from Lehigh Acres Christian church and school supplies from Lehigh Fire and Rescue District and sneakers through gift certificates from Christ United Methodist Church.
"You now, returning to school for these youngsters is so much better if they have new back packs and school supplies and new sneakers. It makes a child feel so good when school opening rolls around and for these kids, it's next week on August 8," she said.
But book packs, school supplies and sneakers were not the only things donated, Nicely said.
"The Kiwanis Club of Lehigh gave us lots of stuffed animals for the younger children. They were given the opportunity to pick out a brand new toy. The kids loved it. Some were also were given tooth paste and brushes by Felicia Rutterbrush and coupons for dental services.
"It is a big deal each year to see the excitement in the children's faces who come with their moms and dads to get new back packs. The children are young and it takes up to eight volunteers to just do the job," Nicely said.
"But I can tell you there were many who were happy campers," she laughed.
Because of so many families in Lehigh who have hit upon hard times, there were other groups in town who also gave things for school. Nicely said Verizon gave 50 or so back packs and the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) also handled out back packs.
This past Sunday hundreds of children from all over the county turned out in Fort Myers to get free back packs and school supplies.
Schools posted in stores the supplies needed this year and the back packs were filled with those items.
"For many of us, it was like Christmas in July," Nicely laughed. "The back packs were the really nice ones, too, and the kids seems to love them."