- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 21, 2004

More than 1,000 District public school students and their parents filed through the doors of Emery Elementary School in Northeast yesterday for a day of free health screenings, immunizations and colorful backpacks chock full of school supplies for the upcoming school year.

The children and adults attended “Operation Backpack,” an annual daylong event sponsored by World Vision D.C., based in Northeast. The Christian relief and development organization helps children and communities reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty.

“This is a good opportunity for [city] agencies, the school system, faith-based groups and health providers to work together for the benefit of D.C. families, residents and children,” said Clark Jones, executive director of World Vision’s D.C. office.

Mr. Jones, who sported an orange and white T-shirt with “Vision D.C.” emblazoned across his chest, said 10 District public schools from each of the city’s eight wards were selected to receive the 1,000 backpacks distributed yesterday. Teachers and principals supplied the organization with the names of the families most in need.

“Our goal this year was to provide 200 families with school uniforms for their children. Uniforms can be a hardship on families, especially for families with several children. So, we spread the word and collected about $7,000 in a few months,” he said with a smile.

The backpacks and new school supplies may have been the draw, but organizers had something more important in mind after the children arrived: getting them immunized and informing parents about the importance of early health care. The Department of Health set up shop in two classrooms with a full complement of computers to check and key information into the system.

“No shot, no school: That’s the DCPS slogan this year,” said Elaine Saunders, Kids in Need manager for Vision D.C., who was busy telling parents of the full array of available services. Some, she noted, were discretionary, although immunization is mandatory. (Organizers estimated that 5,000 students in the District still have not been immunized.)

“We have a huge immigrant population and huge strains of diseases that have been cleared up, including tuberculosis,” Mrs. Saunders said, “but we have new strains that are drug-resistant.”

The event also provided an opportunity to introduce the public, especially the uninsured, to health providers.

“Some children haven’t seen a doctor since they were born,” Mrs. Saunders said.

As parents filled out forms and waited for the names of their children to be called for immunization, the children participated in a variety of arts and crafts activities, had their faces painted and enjoyed hot dogs and hamburgers.

“They have so many activities to occupy the children from face painting to balloons to lunch,” said Tasha Odom, 24. She also said she appreciated the opportunity for her children to meet and play with young people of other nationalities.

Ms. Odom, who lives in Northeast, brought her 4-year-old daughter and son and another son aged 6, to be immunized. She said many participants lacked funds to pay for the shots, “especially single parents.”

Ms. Odom’s aunt, Janice Bennett, also welcomed the activities for children and the wide variety of the screenings, which included eye, dental, hearing, diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma tests.

“I’m impressed by the entire setup,” Ms. Bennett said. “There’s so much for the children to do, and there’s a lot of diversity.”

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