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  Tuesday January 27th, 2015    

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Help a kid be ready to learn (03/06/2004)
By Cynthya Porter
Unless you grew up poor, you probably don't know what it feels like to show up on the first day of school with tattered sneakers, broken crayons and what's left of last year's notebooks.

Worse yet, maybe you show up with nothing, having to borrow glue, scissors and markers from your neighbor just to get your work done. It's embarrassing, but your family just couldn't afford all those things on the back-to-school list.

For at least 1,800 Winona County children this scenario is all too real as their families struggle just to make ends meet. The excitement of returning to school can be diluted by the shame they feel when they get there, and at least one group in Winona thinks that's no way to learn.

Ready...Set...School! is gearing up for a third year of helping low income families purchase school supplies, but they cannot do it without the support of people who want to see these children get off to a good start.

Judy Richter, who is leading the effort for Ready... Set...School! said the organization helped over 1,000 children last year purchase some of the items they needed to start the school year, and this year she would like to serve even more.

In the past, Richter said, families received a $25 voucher for each child, redeemable at several area stores. But $25, she agreed, doesn't go very far, especially if a child doesn't even have a good pair of shoes.

On behalf of the Winona County Collaborative, a conglomeration of human services agencies that organize the fundraising effort each year, Richter said this year she hopes to raise the bar, both financially and in the number of children served. "I'd like to see each child get $35," she said, "and I hope we will serve more kids. We had 1,800 who qualified last year. and we served 1,041 of them."

To qualify, Richter explained, a family must be eligible for free or reduced lunch. In April, all area schools will send home a bright blue flier with an application and information for families. The application deadline is May 12.

But the question right now, Richter added, is how much money will be available for each child. "We take all the applications we have and divide up the money between them," she said.

All of the dollars donated go directly toward funding vouchers for children, Richter said, thanks to some in the community who have already stepped forward to help this program succeed.

Winona County is funding all the administrative costs, Winona National Bank is paying for all the marketing and Steve Blue of Miller Felpax has issued a corporate and personal challenge to follow his lead and give generously.

And Richter is keeping herself busy reaching out to businesses and individuals asking them to change a child's life just a little bit. "Right now we are pounding the pavement and dialing for dollars to see what the pool of money is that we can distribute," she said.

Currently, individuals and businesses or organizations have donated evenly, she said, having received everything from a check for $500 from a Lewiston-Altura parent group to just a few dollars and a note thanking the group for what they are trying to do for children.

It all makes a difference, Richter said, not only to the children served but to the sense of community that makes Winona and the surrounding county special. "This is a chance to do something positive for the community," she said. "As a parent, I don't want any child to feel embarrassed. It just takes away from the time they spend thinking about their education."

Donations are being accepted at all Winona National Bank locations, Security State Bank of Lewiston, Altura State Bank and Southeast Minnesota Resource Center of St. Charles. 


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