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Santa Fund 'drop in the bucket' but makes a difference for area families

Families in need of new clothes or school supplies can turn to The Santa Fund for Schoolkids, a voucher program that area school officials say is greatly appreciated and one of several tools that school systems have to address urgent needs.

Janie Evans, a social worker for Charlottesville City Schools and the division’s Santa Fund coordinator, said that the program was especially helpful this year as students returned to school full-time and after the pandemic had cut many parents’ hours and jobs. Evans said she had several families who came to the division with almost nothing, and that the fund gives them an opportunity to pick out new clothes.

Those families can use Santa Fund vouchers at participating Charlottesville stores to buy new clothes or school supplies. Evans recalled how one boy kept wearing the same sweatpants and flip flops to school each day until his family received a voucher.

“I think it made a big difference for him to show up to school in new clothes,” Evans said of one student’s experience. “… To go shopping for clothes and to wear something brand new is something that some of these families don’t typically get to do.”

This school year, Evans said she has a total of 273 vouchers, most of which have been distributed; each is worth $75.

“It’s a great program,” Evans said. “It is a badly needed resource and, and definitely almost used up already for this year. The more people can give the better.”

Administered by the United Way of Greater Charlottesville, the Santa Fund helps children not only in the city of Charlottesville but also the counties of Albemarle, Buckingham, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, Madison, Nelson and Orange. Last year, United Way raised $229,215.58, exceeding its $175,000 goal.

This year, the organization is seeking to raise $200,000 before the Jan. 15 deadline. So far, $55,526.16 has been raised.

Amanda Cruey, the fund coordinator for Greene County schools, said many families simply could not afford to buy school clothes for their children this year. She already has run out of vouchers to give to families.

“Kids have grown,” said Cruey. “Maybe they were at home in their pajamas when they were virtual, so they didn’t really need the clothes. But this year, they’re back in the buildings and clothing seems to be a pretty high need for them.”

Cruey said that she started accepting referrals from school staff July 1 and ran out of money in August. Most of the vouchers are usually given out in the beginning of the year as back-to-school activities, but Cruey said she’s typically able to keep some money in reserve in case of an emergency, such as a family’s house burning down.

“So we have no (more) Santa Fund money, which is why we’ve had to spearhead some other programs to try to meet the needs of students,” she said.

To help meet those needs, the school division started a clothing closet this school year in order to have a ready supply of clothes, shoes, coats and personal care items on hand. Cruey said they also reach out to local organizations such as churches about specific needs. School staff members also are a big help, she said.

“We have some pretty generous people in our community,” she said. “But there’s still a high level of need that isn’t always met. The vouchers are just a drop in the bucket to what families need to get their kids into school and to keep them in school.”

With a budget of $16,000, Cruey said she was able to provide Santa Fund vouchers to 160 families this year.

Money is allocated to the school divisions through a formula that takes into account the percentage of students considered economically disadvantaged.

Nearly 1,400 Greene County students, or 48%, were considered economically disadvantaged last school year, according to state data.

“It’s definitely a valuable resource,” Cruey said of the fund. “We appreciate everything. Our families appreciate it.”

Depending on the school system, families can receive vouchers that range from $75 to $100. Those vouchers can then be used at participating area stores: Kid-to-Kid, Marshalls, Roses, Second Times the Charm, Shoe Show, TJMaxx, and Terry’s Place.

The number of participating retailers has dwindled in recent years, and United Way is working to increase participation. Stories interested in participating should contact Anna Porter at aporter@unitedwaytja.org.

The number and location of the retailers that accept Santa Fund vouchers can be a challenge, said Cruey and Dave Kohstall, the fund coordinator for the Orange County school division.

“One of the major problems is we give a family a voucher and one they don’t have a car or two they got a car but they don’t have any gas money,” Kohstall said. “They’ve got to drive to Charlottesville to get anything new.”

Additionally, students might need something that cannot be found at any of the participating retailers. For example, a high school student working as a diesel mechanic needed steel-toed work boots. He was working in a shop wearing Chuck Taylors.

“Well, where do you find it?” he said. “So I mean, those are some of the things we run into.”

Kohstall said he has a budget of $15,000 and 100 to 150 families have received vouchers. Families receive $75 to $100, depending on need, with a maximum of $250 for families.

To receive a voucher, Kohstall said there’s an application process. School employees also can refer families who are in need of new clothes, shoes or coats.

He said they are grateful for the fund and thanked those who have contributed over the years. Without it, the families who rely on the vouchers would

“A lot of people don’t understand the level of poverty in Orange County,” he said.

In the Orange County school division, about 2,201 students, or 45%, were considered economically disadvantaged last year.

“Thank God for that fund,” Kohstall said. “Without that, we don’t have any of those kinds of funds within this school system. This school system is not a very wealthy school system. It doesn’t have much to draw on, so that’s a tremendous gift from the United Way for us to help our students.”

Now in its 127th year, the Santa Fund was created by James H. Lindsey, who founded The Daily Progress. Today, the Daily Progress and radio station WINA-AM co-sponsor the fund.

Donations can made online at theSantaFund.org or mailed to 200 Garrett St., Ste I, Charlottesville, VA 22902.

TODAY’S CONTRIBUTIONS

» In loving memory of Paul and Rosa Taylor, Tracey Welch and Whitey Welch from Shirley and Paul Welch, $157.50

» In memory of Ajith Serasundera, $26.25

» Jill and Steve Holt, $262.50

» In honor of Macy Weeks on the occasion of her 16th birthday!, $52.50

» In memory of Max and Shirley…..best dogs EVER!!, $52.50

» Ellen and Jack Crowley, $52.50

» In memory of my daughter Lynn, $52.50

» Louise and Kenny, $262.50

» In memory of Ray and Frances Ballard, $262.50

» Susan and Paul Mintz, $105

» In memory of Mariann Buck Lynch, $100

» Mike and Sherry Nedzbala, $250

» Anonymous, $525

» Memory of Jerry and Willy, $525

» David and Andrea Harris, $105

» Anonymous, $52.50

» With love & appreciation for Ernie Graham, from Granny & Pa, Merry Christmas to all!, $500

» Sarah Humphrey, $300

» For Kids!, $100

» Nancy and Mike Brinkac, In honor of our parents, $500

» In Memory of Katherine Scruggs, $25

» Anonymous, $250

» Anonymous, $100

» Susan and Eugene Corbett Jr., $100

» Bob & Ginger Holub, $100

» Don and Marian Spano, $100

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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