Klothing the kids

Retired school employees collect clothes and supplies for local students in need

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

A lesson of love: Members of the Bucks County chapter of the Pennsylvania Association of School Retirees dropped off backpacks filled with clothing, shoes and supplies for Family Service’s 2017–18 Back-to-School Drive. The group has been sponsoring children each back-to-school season since 2005. Source: Family Service Association of Bucks County

After retiring from her 35-year tenure as a Pennsbury educator, Meg Kramer refused to sit home. She sought a way to not only keep busy, but have a positive impact on her community. The answer came in the form of the PASR — Pennsylvania Association of School Retirees — which encompasses 30,000 retired school employees from across the state, including everyone from teachers and administrators to cooks and janitors.

According to Kramer, a key focus of the organization since its creation 80 years ago has been small community service projects such as baking homemade goods for shut-ins and delivering blankets to seniors at local nursing homes. But in 2005, a new goal was established — to help more children in need. That year, the Bucks County chapter formed a committee dedicated solely to this mission, quickly laying the groundwork for what would become its biggest initiative to date — Klothes for Kids.

Now thriving in its 13th year, the project gifts children of financially-struggling families with backpacks full of clothes, school supplies and anything else they may need to start the year off on a positive note. All of the recipients are clients of Family Service, a Bucks County-based nonprofit social service organization, which PASR has partnered with since the start of Klothes for Kids.

Last year, thanks to the support of the Bucks County chapter of the PASR among other partners, Family Service provided 329 children with new backpacks filled with supplies, school outfits and sneakers for its annual Back to School Drive. In total, PASR members have donated thousands of items to help boost the confidence of more than 1,600 children in the area.

“We know how important it is for children to walk into the classroom on the first day feeling good about themselves,” said Kramer, who serves as the project chair. “Having new clothes and school supplies gives students a good start in their new grade.”

Studies show the back to school season can be a financially difficult time for some families. According to a survey conducted by Deloitte, in 2017, parents spent an average of $104 per child on school supplies, as well as an additional $284 per child on clothing and accessories.

For Kramer, it’s all about alleviating some of that stress for as many families as possible. In the first year of Klothes for Kids, the chapter set a goal of filling 25 backpacks. It ended up with 52. This year, Kramer said it hope to fill 83 bags, though these retirees have been known to gather enough items for more than 170 in a single year.

Klothes for Kids planning usually begins early in the summer, when Family Service provides Kramer with information on the recipients, including initials, age, grade, clothing size and general interests. For example, one of Kramer’s girls (she symbolically adopts each child), likes Peppa Pig and Minnie Mouse, so she’ll focus on finding supplies featuring those characters.

Each bag contains specific items — at least two articles of clothing, with a hoodie or jacket for the colder fall and winter months, all appropriate school supplies, underwear and socks. According to Kramer, PASR members shop for these items on their own time and use their own money, usually spending approximately $150 on each filled backpack.

But for the members, knowing they brought some happiness to a family during an otherwise stressful time outweighs the financial aspect. And Family Service is making sure their efforts aren’t going unnoticed.

The organization recently honored the Bucks County chapter of the PASR with its 2018 Susan N. Altomari Champion for Youth award, which recognizes an individual or group that positively impacts the lives of youth in Bucks County through Family Service.

“PASR is a valued partner of ours,” said Marlene Piasecki, Family Service interim chief executive officer. “They are incredibly generous in supporting the families we serve, and we look forward to working with this wonderful group of teachers each year.”

Kramer, who has single-handedly chaired the project since her co-chair passed away several years ago, said she was “delighted” to be honored.

The Klothes for Kids deadline is Aug. 1, with all items consolidated at Family Service’s Langhorne location the following week. For those who wish to participate in the project, contact Susan Fischer-Flagg at sfischer@fsabc.orgor 215–757–6919, ext. 218. All donated items go to Family Service clients or children of clients between the ages of 4 and 18 with demonstrated need.

For more information on Family Service, visit fsabc.org. For more information on the Bucks County chapter of the PASR, visit pasr.org/chapters/Bucks/Buckscounty.html. ••

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com