East Hawaii News

Salvation Army Helping Keiki Start School Year Off With New Supplies

By Nathan Christophel
July 27, 2022, 10:00 AM HST
* Updated July 27, 9:23 AM
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The Salvation Army Hilo Corps on Tuesday, July 26, distributed 55 backpacks containing school supplies. (Photo courtesy of Hilo Corps Officer Capt. Sam LeMar)

School begins next week and The Salvation Army is helping make sure Big Island students return to classrooms with enough supplies to kick off another year of learning.

The Salvation Army’s Hilo Corps on Tuesday, July 26, handed out 55 backpacks with school supplies ranging from pens, pencils and markers to binders, crayons and composition notebooks, among others, to families in need.

Jocelyn Ramones, a cook at The Salvation Army Hilo Corps, helps put school supplies in backpacks. (Photo courtesy of Hilo Corps Officer Capt. Sam LeMar)

The supplies were donated by community members and given out as part of The Salvation Army Hawaiian and Pacific Islands’ back-to-school supply drive. The Hilo Corps also used about $1,200 that was donated, plus more out of its coffers, to purchase some supplies as part of the drive.

Supplies were donated for all grade levels, including some for high-schoolers.

“We think it’s really important that kids go to school with some dignity,” Hilo Corps Officer Capt. Sam LeMar told Big Island Now. “If they show up with an old backpack and bad supplies, it singles them out immediately. But this gets them off to a good start; not only in the classroom, but amongst their peers as well.”

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There was no income verification and families didn’t have to meet any specific qualifications to receive supplies. They were given to any family in the community, some with as many as six children, that expressed a need.

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“We feel like everyone’s in need, just in Hawai‘i in general,” Hilo Corps Officer Felicia LeMar, Capt. Sam LeMar’s wife, told Big Island Now. “Everyone’s in need because it’s so expensive just with food, everything — the cost of everything rising.”

Part of The Salvation Army’s mission is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and meet human needs in His name without discrimination.

“We don’t ask anybody where they’re from, who their parents are, what they do — you need a backpack, you get a backpack,” Sam LeMar said. “And that goes for all of our services — to meet human needs without discrimination.”

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The supply drive also falls in line with the philosophy of The Salvation Army’s founder, William Booth, who wanted to help people spiritually as a church but realized those same people also had physical needs to be met. LeMar said that’s where the “soup, soap and salvation” come in.

“Essentially, we’ll provide the soup and the soap, but you don’t have to hear the salvation message,” he said. “That’s that without discrimination. So the soup and the soap come first, and today, the soup and the soap takes form in a backpack for a kid. On Friday, it will take form in a food bag. This morning it took form in breakfast.”

Unfortunately, the amount of donated school supplies has declined in the past few years and this year is no different. The Hilo Corps started accepting donations at the beginning of June and by the time the backpacks and supplies were given out Tuesday, LeMar said it was probably about 60% less than last year. He couldn’t attribute the decrease to anything specific, but suggested several reasons.

School supplies are seen inside one of the backpacks distributed Tuesday at the Hilo Corps to a family in need as part of The Salvation Army’s back-to-school supply drive. (Nathan Christophel/Big Island Now)

“It could be gas prices, inflation, people just coming out of COVID, things like that,” LeMar said. “Maybe there’s donor fatigue. Who knows.”

There is a waiting list of about 20 families who called to request supplies. The Hilo Corps is still accepting donations and also trying to refer families in need to other organizations that can help.

“We’re here to serve,” LeMar said. “Essentially, the more stuff we have, the more people we can serve.”

The Hilo Corps has served the community since 1894.

“So we’ve been a fixture in the community, and if the community’s needed, we’ve fulfilled that need,” LeMar said.

As someone who grew up in Lahaina, Maui, never getting a new backpack for school and having to use his mother’s pass-me-downs, he thinks its important for keiki to start the school year off right with the supplies they need. The Salvation Army school supply drive helps.

“I think this is a really important thing, more so for the kid in all aspects — educational, social, the whole thing,” LeMar said.

He also thinks the supply drive is good for parents who are struggling to afford school supplies.

“One of the things I really appreciate not only about this, but it goes hand-in-hand with our Christmas toy drive, is that the kid doesn’t necessarily know that it came from The Salvation Army. All they know is that their parents provided,” LeMar said. “So I think, to me, that’s really important because it gives the parents that piece of dignity and respect and honor amongst themselves because they are providing. They went out to go find the stuff, to sign up to take their troubles to wait on a waiting list. So it’s really heartwarming. They get to get their kid new supplies.”

He also said that when community members donate to The Salvation Army, they can be assured their donations will go to those who need them.

“It’s a direct donation, we’re just a pass-through,” LeMar said. “That’s how it works with a lot of things, pretty much all of our donations — our food, our Christmas stuff. People give it to us, we give it to others.”

The parents who came to Tuesday’s distribution event offered plenty words of thanks and grateful smiles as they picked up the backpacks for their keiki.

“I think it’s awesome to help families who can’t afford school supplies and just being there for the keiki and ‘ohana to send them back to school with not all but some school supplies.” Johnalin Paulino, who was picking up backpacks for four children on Tuesday morning, told Big Island Now.

Any families that want to inquire about supplies or be added to the waiting list or community members who want to donate supplies or money can call the Hilo Corps office at 808-935-1277 during regular business hours of 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays, except from noon-1 p.m.

Requested items for this year’s supply drive include:

  • Backpacks (most needed).
  • Colored markers.
  • Colored pencils.
  • Composition notebooks.
  • Crayons.
  • Erasers.
  • Facial tissue and paper towels.
  • Glue and glue sticks.
  • Highlighters.
  • School boxes.
  • Pencils and pencil pouches.
  • Pens (black, blue and red).
  • Portfolios.
  • Rulers.
  • Scissors.
  • Small calculators.
  • Wide-rule binder paper.

Anyone who wants to drop off donations can do so at the Hilo Corps location at 219 Ponahawai St. in Hilo.

The Kona Corps is also part of this year’s school supply drive and began accepting donations at the beginning of July.

Kona Corps Officer Capt. Raghel Santiago echoed many of Sam and Felicia LeMar’s thoughts, saying her location has also seen a decline in donations.

“We have collected some, but we are still in need for more,” Santiago told Big Island Now, adding because school has returned to in-person instruction, the Kona Corps has more families signed up to receive supplies than in previous years. “Also, demographically, we are having people seeking help from Kona, Ocean View, Nāʻālehu and now Waimea area, too.”

The Kona Corps is still in need of backpacks for all ages, especially keiki in intermediate and high school. It also needs more spiral notebooks, sheet protectors, big pencils for kindergarteners, pens, rulers, college-ruled and wide-ruled binder paper, binders and bottles and sticks of glue.

Monetary donations also are still welcome, which the Kona Corps can use to purchase additional supplies. It has already received some, but Santiago said it is not as much as hoped.

Supplies will be distributed from Aug. 1-12 at the Kona Corps and donations will continue to be accepted through Aug. 12.

The back-to-school supply drive is one of The Salvation Army’s programs that Santiago is passionate about. The Kona Corps officer thinks a child should not have to worry about feeling marginalized because they can’t afford a new backpack or school supplies.

“I want every child to go to school feeling confident and positive knowing they have what they need to succeed academically and socially … ,” Santiago said. “Some of the families we help with our back-to-school drive are homeless and live in their vehicles. My heart melts all the time when these particular kids get to pick out the backpack of their choice and they are filled with so much joy. This makes all the hard work all worthwhile.”

The Kona Corps also uses monetary donations to help parents in poverty by purchasing slippers and shoes, underwear and hygiene products and toiletries for their keiki.

“As the corps officers in Kona, it blesses my heart that we are able to help those in need in our community, but one of the greatest things I am thankful for is being able to witness others in our community be a blessing to those in need by partnering with us,” Santiago said.

For more information about how to help the Kona Corps with its school supply drive efforts, call 808-326-2330 or contact Santiago via email at [email protected].

Supplies can be dropped off from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Kona Corps location at 75-223 Kalani St. in Kailua-Kona.

Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel has more than 20 years of experience in journalism, starting out as a reporter and working his way up to become a copy editor and page designer, most recently at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo.
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