Help-A-Child Fund gives coats to needy pupils Educators hope to cut absenteeism

November 11, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Howard County educators have raised more than $2,000 to help needy students buy such items as winter coats, eyeglasses and shoes.

More than 160 teachers, support personnel and the Phelps Luck Elementary School PTA have donated from $5 to $50 each to the Help-A-Child Fund, a program started last year by the local teachers union and the school system's pupil personnel department.

The fund aims to cut down on absenteeism by helping to furnish items that students need to go to school. It does so by providing families with vouchers they can use to purchase clothing and other items.

Although Howard is one of the nation's wealthiest counties, "we still have children in need," said James R. Swab, president of the Howard County Education Association, the teachers union.

Mr. Swab said it is likely that the teachers union will get more requests for coats, jackets and related items as winter comes. The union already has helped six families with vouchers to buy winter clothing for their children.

Requests for such help have increased in recent years. Last year, for example, more than 300 sought assistance, compared with just 100 four years ago.

Some of the requests come from families who need money to pay for doctor visits or prescription medicine, or from those who can't meet rent and utility bill payments because one parent is unemployed.

Children from families in such situations typically miss school more than 20 percent of the time, pupil personnel workers say.

Students eligible for the Help-A-Child Fund must be identified by guidance counselors, who send referral forms to the teachers union.

The union then sends families vouchers of up to $50, redeemable at such department stores as Caldor, Kmart or Sears, where families can trade the vouchers for shoes or clothing. The stores send the vouchers to the teachers union at the end of every month for reimbursement.

Although the Help-A-Child Fund, modeled after Baltimore County's KidCare program, is new this year, the schools' pupil personnel office has had a separate account for years to help needy students.

But that account has been unable to meet all of the requests for help, said Peter Finck, a pupil personnel worker.

The account, which this year has about $400, includes donations from school employees and from private companies and groups, such as the Columbia Business Exchange, which recently contributed $250. Pupil personnel workers plan to hold a holiday auction to raise as much as $1,500 more for the account.

Contributions to the Help-A-Child Fund may be sent to: Help-A-Child Fund, c/o the Howard County Education Association, 5900 Cedar Lane, Columbia, Md. 21044.

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