As I walked in the Kids R First distribution center at Rachel Carson Middle School, I was stunned by the seemingly endless boxes of school supplies. There were towering packages of pencils, scissors, crayons, highlighters, binders, glue sticks, and much more. “Oh, this is nothing,” said Susan Ungerer, president of the non-profit organization. “You should have seen it three weeks ago, when we couldn’t even fit it all in the cafeteria.” When these school supplies were first delivered, there were about 90 pallets of boxes that needed to be unloaded, sorted, and delivered by hundreds of volunteers.
Thanks to these volunteers and many donors, thousands of low-income children in Fairfax and Loudoun Counties will not have to go without school supplies this fall.
The idea for this program developed during Susan Ungerer’s years as a teacher at Terraset Elementary School. She discovered that many of her students’ families were unable to afford the required supplies each year. She often spent her own money to help these kids acquire backpacks, pencils, notebooks, and other educational essentials.
When Susan retired in 1995, she devoted her time to finding a larger solution to this problem. That year she began a project with the volunteer group Herndon-Reston FISH to provide school supplies to local students who qualified for the public schools’ free or reduced meals program. In that first year, they served 450 kids. Requests increased rapidly in the following years. “It became very clear that there was a huge mission that needed to be fulfilled,” Susan recalled.
In 1998, she founded an independent volunteer organization called Kids R First. That year, they provided school supplies to 2,000 students. This year the number is close to 30,000.
Kids R First operates by collecting donations and then purchasing supplies at cost from Walmart and Office Depot. Because of the discount provided by these stores, every $1 donated can buy $4 worth of supplies. Their main fundraiser each year is the Kids R First Golf Classic at the Hidden Creek Golf Course in Reston. Other funding comes from holiday gift wrapping and individual or company donations. This year, Kids R First has raised $175,000, which has enabled them to buy $700,000 worth of school supplies.
Each school in Fairfax and Loudoun Counties provides specific orders for their students’ supply needs. When the supplies are delivered (by the truckload!) to their distribution center in the summertime, volunteers sort through the many boxes and pack the customized orders, which are then delivered to the schools and distributed to the qualifying students.
As acknowledgment of this organization’s contributions to local education, Kids R First was selected as the 2016 Outstanding Community Partner of the Year by Fairfax County Public Schools. It was the first award of the sort ever given by FCPS.
But even more importantly, these volunteers and donors and can be proud that they have helped to cover some of the basic educational needs of 30,000 kids in over 96 local schools.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
- Donate money to Kids R First. Every dollar you give buys four dollars’ worth of supplies.Volunteer your time, either as an individual or as part of a group or team.
- Participate in the Golf Classic fundraiser in Reston next May.
- Have your gift wrapping done by Kids R First volunteers for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, or the winter holidays.
- Become a company sponsor of Kids R First.
Do you know someone who is making a difference in our community? Would you like Modern Reston to help you spread the word about a charity that is important to you? Please contact us with your suggestions at [email protected], or here in the comments. We’d love to hear from you.
Photography by Charlotte Geary
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