- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 26, 2017

KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) - A backpack. Some pens. A highlighter, a ruler, a notebook and all the other basics needed for the first day of school. That’s what the SUPPLIES program in Kokomo is offering low-income families in Howard County.

For more than 20 years, unions and organizations around Howard County have come together to offer free school supplies to up to 1,000 low-income families. This year’s program started Monday and runs through Wednesday.

For many of the children, the program is fun. There’s face painting, balloon animals, coloring books and popcorn - all for free. To the parents, the program is a stress-reliever.

Diahann Belt, whose son is going to be a junior this year, attended the event Monday. She said she heard through the grapevine that she could get free supplies for her son, and she decided to take advantage of it.

“It’s awesome,” she said, adding that her son was going to be excited when he saw the new backpack.

Cheryl Graham, 2-1-1 director for the United Way of Howard County, said the program is possible because local unions and organizations came together to address the ALICE population in the county. ALICE stands for asset limited, income constrained, employed, and it represents adults who work but do not make enough money to support their families.

“These are people out there struggling,” Graham said. “School’s a particularly hard time. You’ve got to do shoes; you’ve got to do clothes; you’ve got to do books. So this is a way to ease that burden a little bit during a really tough time.”

The program also is aligned with many unions’ goal to enhance education and give back to the community, Graham said.

“It’s our dedication to education and making sure our kids have a good start and get a great education, and they become greater workers, and it makes our community better,” Graham said.

April Duncan attended with her daughter, Dre’Nisia Lewis, who is going to be a kindergartener. Duncan has five children, and for her, the SUPPLIES program ensures that all her children are ready for their first day of class.

“I think it’s a really great program,” she said. “It helps a lot of families. You come to school and you’ve got so many classes. . It just helps us out a lot.”

Duncan has been attending the SUPPLIES program since her oldest, who is now 17, started school.

Lewis said she enjoyed the activities Monday and was glad to have a new backpack. When it comes to starting school, Lewis said she’s most looking forward to recess.

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Source: Kokomo Tribune, https://bit.ly/2tAMu9R

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Information from: Kokomo Tribune, https://www.ktonline.com

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