Cassandra Crowe received birthday gifts from her family that everyone covets — money.
That money may have been enough for a shopping spree. It may have been enough for several trips to the salon to get her nails done. But the 26-year-old decided on a more selfless approach to using those gifts.
A mother of two preschoolers, she pooled her financial resources into buying school supplies for families in need. She got the word out that she wanted to help by posting a message on the “Waterloo/Columbia/Red Bud Swap & Sell” Facebook group. Crowe received a lot more responses from parents in need than she anticipated, telling the Republic-Times that she felt overwhelmed.
“I got upset because I thought I couldn’t help everybody,” she said. “I would literally call my parents up and be crying.”
However, in much the same way she couldn’t anticipate how many people would need help, Crowe also didn’t know just how many people out there were willing to contribute toward her cause.
“Every time I would get down about not being able to help someone, people would message me saying they wanted to sponsor a family,” she said.
Crowe said she never took on this initiative in previous years, but that doesn’t mean the need didn’t exist in the past. To give some perspective, the Monroe County YMCA raised school supplies for nearly 100 schoolchildren through its “Backpack Attack” program.
“The community really stepped up to the plate,” YMCA membership coordinator Yolanda Moore said.
The program runs Aug. 1-31. Included in the YMCA program is a recommended list of supplies, as well as delivery spots in the region to drop off these supplies. Go to www.gwrymca.org/2016backpackattack for more information.
Needs continue to grow as the prices and amount of school supplies required for the modern-day classroom increase. According to Huntington Bank’s 2015-16 Backpack Index, the average elementary school student will spend $659 on supplies this year. The average high school student could spend up to $1,500.
“I don’t think people realize how much of a need there is for (donations),” Crowe said.
Thanks to Crowe’s persistence, Creve Coeur Lakehouse in St. Louis is also doing a school supply drive. A group of Pokémon Go players, who met at the restaurant Monday night, surrendered school supplies for admission.
Dollar General in Dupo came on board. Meanwhile, the Waterloo Dollar General location will give 20 percent off to anyone buying school supplies as a donation.
First Baptist Church in Dupo gathers supplies for students with a charity event known as “Project Backpack.” Church member Tammy Taylor, who is the Republic-Times graphic designer, leads the program and said she fulfilled the needs of 22 kids, getting them every item on their list for the 2016-17 school year.
Waterloo Junior High School teacher Andy Mayer pointed out that stocking the classroom with supplies is commonplace for teachers. Additionally, the WJHS Student Council stores extra supplies.
Retired Waterloo special education teacher Nancy Wolfe said one of the problems she faced with school supply needs involved students coming into class with little more than a notebook and a pen. She also encountered students who came into her class later in the school year, at which point those students often needed help gathering the right supplies.
“I had cabinets full of supplies,” Wolfe said. “You become a hoarder when you’re a teacher.”
For as much as school supplies can cost, Wolfe never considered buying extra materials a difficulty.
“I wouldn’t call it a burden,” she said. “I would say you just do it because it’s needed.”
Knowing there is a need is the easy part. Knowing who is in need, Crowe said, proves difficult.
“When people need help, the hardest part is asking for it,” she said. “A lot of women messaged me that they never would have asked. If we just do this every year, they won’t have to.”