Local donations benefit students

Published 10:23 am Friday, August 22, 2008

A total of 246 children from 90 families will be able to return to school classes this fall with all the necessary supplies they need.

Thanks to the generosity of shoppers at Oak Park Mall and organizations and individuals who donated money, a “disaster” was avoided.

Just last weekend, Lori Blanton, social worker for the Salvation Army Austin Corps, announced 100 children’s names on the Caring Tree at OPM had not been claimed.

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OPM is one of the members of the Minnesota Shopping Centers Association, which participates annually in the Caring Tree Project.

The purpose is to purchases necessary school supplies for needy children.

A downturn in the economy caused the local Caring Tree Project to falter, leaving 100 of the 246 children, whose families requested assistance, without supplies.

“I was really worried,” admitted Lynette Jarvis, OPM’s marketing coordinator. “The economy was so bad, and people just weren’t shopping the way they used to shop.”

When the plight of the 100 children was reported last Sunday, shoppers responded.

“The day after the story appeared in the newspaper, people responded,” Jarvis said. “The next day (Monday), the Austin Noon Lions Club came in and gave us a check for school supplies.”

“ Then, Thrivent Financial Services for Lutherans, who always helps out, gave us another substantial donation. We had donations from individuals, too,” Jarvis said.

Armed with enough money — $2,469, to be exact —Jarvis did the shopping for school supplies herself.

“I went to local stores, wherever I could get the best deals, and I bought all the stuff we needed to fill the bags for the kids,” she said.

“We received enough donations to take care of all the kids,” said Salvation Army social worker Blanton.

It was her job to take the applications for back-to-school assistance from needy families and then go to the OPM Caring Tree with the names.

The Salvation Army’s Maxine Brady organized volunteers to assist shoppers at the Centre Court display featuring an Austin Transportation Service school bus.

“Teamwork is what got us through this; that and the generosity of so many,” she said. “When we were left with 100 children’s names on the Caring Tree I was really worried how many we could help, but people came through and we appreciate it very, very much.”

The school supplies will be distributed to the families Wednesday at OPM.

“It was a tough year,” Jarvis said. “There’s no denying that and I was really worried about how this would come out before last weekend.”

“But it all worked out and the children will be going back to school with the things they need,” she said.

“There are a lot of people to thank,” Jarvis added.