School supplies 'priceless' to tornado survivors

Story By John Iwasaki / Photos by World Vision staff

Even in normal times, numerous families in Granbury, Texas, struggle to get by. Just ask teachers about their students.

Phyllis Freeman (left), World Vision's national director of domestic disaster response, shows teachers at Baccus Elementary School a list of school supplies available from the mobile Teacher Resource Center.

"It's really hard to concentrate on addition, subtraction, science, when you don't know if you're going to eat that night," says Kelly Eppler, a third-grade teacher at Baccus Elementary School. "They bring so many grownup fears that they shouldn’t have to think about."

The situation worsened earlier this year when Granbury, about 35 miles southwest of Dallas-Fort Worth, bore the brunt of tornadoes that ravaged North Texas. The May 15 disaster killed six people and damaged hundreds of homes in the city of about 8,500 residents.

"Those kids lost nearly everything," says Jimmy Dawson, principal at Acton Middle School, where several dozen Granbury students were affected.

In early September, shortly after the new school year started, World Vision provided teachers at Baccus and Acton with free classroom supplies through its mobile Teacher Resource Center. Educators picked up everything from notebooks and pencils to scissors and glue sticks.

For educators who often pay for such items out of their own pockets, "this is amazing. Nothing like this has ever happened to us before," second-grade teacher Suzanne Back says. "Seventy-three percent of our children are on free or reduced-price lunch. They just don't have the resources to go and buy things... This will help us a lot. This is just a blessing, it really is."

World Vision's mobile Teacher Resource Center carries bins of school supplies to distribute to teachers at schools with high levels of low-income students.

Teachers say learning is hampered when students lack supplies. "It disrupts class when we’re searching for scissors or hunting for pencils," says Anita Gill, who teaches third grade. "If we have plenty, we can keep things running smoothly."

The availability of school supplies goes beyond economics and academics. Students who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches feel out of place, third-grade teacher Cindy Luedeker says. "They're already uncomfortable. They think they're inadequate because their parents can't provide school supplies for them."

Baccus Principal Leslie Tewell agrees: "You've got students who have the resources and the ones who don't. That might cause some embarrassment and make [the low-income students feel] insecure."

Getting help from the mobile Teacher Resource Center "means that when a kid comes into my room and they don't have their supplies, there's not even a pause," says Kim Hare, a pre-kindergarten teacher. "We load them up, and they are good to go. They never feel different from the other class members. They're never aware that they're different."

Frank Perry, supply chain coordinator at World Vision's North Texas field site, helps bring school supplies to classrooms at Baccus Elementary School in Granbury, Texas.

Baccus teachers have placed students in need "under our wings for a long time," says Vonda Ore, who teaches fifth-grade math. "We give them snacks on Fridays so they have some kind of food over the weekend. We kind of prepare ourselves to help them have things."

Kindergarten teacher Tammy Kelley says that educators place school supplies "in the hands of the most needy in Granbury."

"People don't think that in the middle of America you're going to have the needs that we have," she says. "I'm saying, 'it's here.' You drive around the neighborhoods, you look at our homes, and then [consider that] we were hit by the storms… There is a great need."

That's why the mobile Teacher Resource Center distribution was "just a great opportunity," Tewell says. "We can't say thank you enough."

Dawson, the Acton principal, concurs. He calls the distribution of supplies "priceless."

"A huge thank you goes to [donors] and to anyone else who has been able to give whatever they can to World Vision and to this operation," he says. "This is showing that World Vision supports education, supports kids. And that is extremely important to us and for what we do."