To help gather backpacks for transient kids, local credit unions will have barrels in their locations throughout February and March for customers to make donations.
“The way it was explained to me was it’s not uncommon for kids or parents to get locked out of motel rooms and lose everything,” said Rebecca Johnston-Stokes, director of marketing and member development for Frontier Financial Credit Union in Sparks. “It’s really heartbreaking.”
Johnston-Stokes said a local chapter of credit union members meets once a month to network and choose a community initiative to support and plan, such as coat or book drives.
With an increasing population of transient children in school, Johnston-Stokes said it was decided there was a great need for backpacks and other supplies, even basic clothing items such as socks.
“It’s a nice way to save the homeless kid living in a motel,” she said.
The Children in Transition program began in 1995, according to lead liaison Gloria Bratiotis.
Bratiotis said the number of children identified and enrolled in Children in Transition has increased by 8 percent since January with about 1,300 currently enrolled.
“We’re seeing the foreclosure rate go up, loss of jobs and some people are not even going to motels,” she said. “They’re doubling up, looking for friends or relatives to stay with in the area.”
Supplies are collected for students who often lose their items through no fault of their own because they don’t have a fixed place to live, Bratiotis said.
“They don’t lose them because they’re not responsible,” she said. “They lose them because they’ll be locked out (of motels) and the school bags aren’t as important to take. Plus, these things are consumable. They will tear, binders will get lost, the pencil runs out of lead or an eraser and needs to be replaced just as any child would need.”
The cost of backpacks or binders, specifically Trapper Keepers, can be a burden to parents who are seeking shelter, she said. The average cost of a Trapper Keeper is $12 to $20.
“That’s huge,” she said. “You’re also identifying yourself. The other kids are going to say, ‘How come you don’t have the right thing?’ “
Efforts to offer transients new supplies help alleviate a social stigma among the children that they’re more financially burdened than others, Bratiotis said. Having a typical three-ring binder can cast a negative light on a student if a Trapper Keeper is preferred.
“A child would prefer to look like every other child in the classroom all over the country,” Bratiotis said. “It’s everywhere.”
She said she believes most teachers are aware of their students’ situations and often pay for the supplies out of their own pockets if they’re able.
“I don’t hesitate to make sure every homeless child is treated equally as housed children,” she said.
Children in Transition receives federal funding for its work and has been reauthorized several times since 1987, including former President George Bush’s No Child Left Behind legislation. Bratiotis said it’s a necessary service to provide.
“A homeless child is the neediest of the needy,” she said. “A child living in poverty or a foster child – they have needs. But homeless children are the neediest.”
New backpacks are preferred, Bratiotis said. Backpacks and other supplies, including zippered pencil pouches, scissors, protractors, glue sticks, crayons, scientific calculators, pens, pencils, pencil sharpeners and rulers, can be dropped off in a barrel at any branch of Frontier Financial Credit Union, Clearstar Financial Credit Union, Great Basin Federal Credit Union, Silver State Schools Credit Union, EW-401 Credit Union or Financial Horizons Credit Union.
For questions, Bratiotis said she can be contacted at 333-6133.