It’s summer in Tucson, and temperatures are not the only thing on the rise: Back-to-school drives are heating up as students and teachers anticipate regular returns to classrooms in August.
“It has been an interesting year for sure, and everyone has been very cautious with COVID, but I think we are starting to feel the energy come back,” said Cristina Greenberg, director of Aviva Children’s Services, which is dedicated to filling emergency needs for 3,000 children in foster and kinship care through the Arizona Department of Child Safety annually.
A 2019 merger with the Easterseals Blake Foundation enabled Aviva to expand offerings to include comprehensive mental health and behavioral services and other resources to ease the burden on foster families.
“One of our specific targets is to reach kinship foster families with donations from the back-to-school drive. There are 14,000 kids in foster care statewide, and 33% of those are with extended family members — such as grandparents or aunts and uncles — known as ‘kinship care.’ If we can provide school supplies for these kids, it is one less expense they have to worry about,” said Greenberg.
Kinship care, Greensberg said, is often considered to be in the best interests of the children, but placements can happen quickly or unexpectedly, and Aviva can help families prepare. She said that in spite of the challenges presented by the global pandemic, the nonprofit managed to continue to fill essential needs for the children and families it serves.
“On top of the trauma these children were going through, COVID provided added barriers for kids in foster care, but we continued to provide food, cribs, carseats, diapers and other essential needs for families. We did a lot of this virtually and were able to send items to families in order to keep everyone safe. We have carried that through to our back-to-school drive, so if people don’t want to go into stores to purchase items, they can go to Amazon or Target online and select supplies, and they will be delivered directly to Aviva where volunteers will fill the backpacks,” said Greenberg.
The backpacks will be distributed for free in drive-thru distributions in Tucson and Sierra Vista on July 17-18 while supplies last. Any children in foster and kinship care are eligible as long as a Notice of Provider is shown.
Youth On Their Own
Convenience is also a consideration for supporters interested in providing supplies for homeless and near-homeless students through the Youth On Their Own Back-to-School Challenge.
The event seeks to assist about 1,500 unaccompanied middle school and high school students, many whom will be returning to the classroom for the first time in over a year, according to Bethany Neumann, director of development and communications for YOTO.
“We are doing a mix of what we normally do with our school supplies drive and a Restock-the-Mini Mall Drive with food and hygiene products for our kids. We are focusing on both and encouraging financial donations because we have a generous $15,000 match that was provided by two of our wonderful donors. Online donations are applied toward the match, and we want people to know they have that option to participate,” said Neumann.
YOTO is also excited about today’s reopening of the Mini Mall, at 1642 N. Alvernon Way. The store provides free “shopping” for food, toiletries, household items and other necessities to homeless students.
Tucson Supports Teachers
Connecting with teachers by supporting the Tucson Supports Teachers campaign offers Tucsonans an additional opportunity for involvement.
The annual campaign, which is spearheaded by the nonprofit Tucson Values Teachers, has raised more than $1.2 million to help teachers purchase classroom supplies since its inception in 2009. Last year more than 3,000 teachers registered for their names to be drawn in the supply drive, according to Andrew Heinemann, chief executive officer of TVT.
“Different organizations have supply drives and collect materials, but the beautiful thing about Tucson Supplies Teachers is that we want teachers to be able to be selective and target the specific needs that each one has. This year we are offering teachers a $50 gift certificate to Jonathan’s Educational Resources, which supports a local business, so it is a win-win for everyone,” said Heinemann.