For decades, the Salvation Army has been collecting school supplies for children in Allen County.
This year is no different. The organization kicked off its Tools for School campaign Thursday with the appearance of Hannah Smith, the 14-year-old Pre-Miss Queen of Charities and some of her attendants who were there to lend a hand loading Salvation Army barrels with supplies already collected.
Hannah, who will be a freshman at Concordia Lutheran High School this fall, said she is involved in raising money for the Salvation Army for "the experience of being able to help people."
The Salvation Army is also "one of the most well known and most efficient organizations for people who don’t have stuff," she added.
Allen County’s need is great. About 70 percent of the 30,000 students who attend Fort Wayne Community Schools fall into the free or reduced-price lunch category.
The rate is about 50 percent for East Allen County Schools. Northwest Allen County Schools and Southwest Allen County Schools are both under 20 percent.
Last year, the organization was able to supply 1,072 students with book bags and school supplies. Tim Smith, Salvation Army’s social service director, said this year the organization hopes to match that number or go higher. The last official day of the collection campaign is July 31, and the book bags will be distributed some time before school begins in August.
"This is huge," said Melanie Hall, FWCS director of public affairs, who said another collection is going on at the downtown FWCS administrative offices.
On Aug. 1, FWCS has scheduled a back-to-school event at the Career Academy at Anthis from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. to distribute school supplies and offer free haircuts, hygiene products and possibly shoes.
The FWCS’ collection amounts to about 300 book bags, Hall said.
Jessica Crozier, homeless liaison coordinator for the district, said the number of homeless children was 716 last year, The previous year the number was 524, possibly reflecting homeless children who had not been reported.
Tim Smith said even though the unemployment numbers have gone down in Allen County, "the number of individuals living in poverty has actually gone up." It may be that low paying jobs have not lifted people out of the poverty category, he added.
Hannah was crowned Queen of Charities in the pre-miss category in April and won in one of seven pageant categories sponsored by the Salvation Army, said Jama Smith, the Salvation Army’s director of resource development. Contestants are judged on poise, personality and fundraising ability. Hannah raised $1,500 by collecting money at bowling alleys, seeking sponsors and hosting online auctions.
JaKaylah Rich, 11, a contestant for two years, said she participated in the contest "so everyone can have what they need when they go to school."
For more information on Tools for School, call the Salvation Army at 260-744-2311.
Monetary donations can be sent to 2901 N. Clinton St. or at www.safortwayne.org.