On the first day of school, each brand new crayon means something to the chubby hand that holds it.
Each yellow-green, burnt orange and carnation pink, sharpened to a perfect conical peak, represents the heights, the hopeful hues, the possibilities of an unexplored year.
That's exactly why a group of volunteers and school district employees got together this summer to organize the largest school supplies drive in Howard County's history.
Collected in 10 weeks: more than $10,000 in cash donations; more than 400 backpacks; and bags and boxes of miscellaneous school supplies too numerous to count.
"The idea is to have new things, and to have your own, and to put it all together the way you want it," said Cynthia Snavely, a volunteer who helped stuff some of the 500 additional backpacks from Wal-Mart the $10,000 bought. "It gives the kids the sense that you're ready, you're ready to go."
When school opens tomorrow, 1,000 to 1,200 students will be ready to go - with new backpacks overstuffed with all the necessities and niceties with which a child should begin the school year.
Zipper binders, shimmery iridescent pencils, erasers shaped like soccer balls. Boxes of scented tissues, kitten-covered folders, glue in white and in blue. Rulers, lined paper, composition notebooks. Pencil cases, pencil pouches, pencil sharpeners. Markers, colored pencils, highlighters.
And, crayons, crayons, crayons.
Ah, the intoxicating aroma of paraffin wax and pigment, trapped inside a hooded house of cardboard, just waiting to be the courier of some small child's creativity.
"Kids just love new school supplies," said Rachel Leasure, a Howard County pupil personnel worker who helped stuff the multilooped-and-latched bookbags donated by dozens of churches, organizations, businesses and citizens around the county. "I don't know any student - no matter how old - that doesn't love school supplies," she said Friday.
About 45,700 students will stream through the doors of Howard County's 67 schools tomorrow, an increase of nearly 1,200 students from last year.
More than 4,000 of those children will require daily lunches that are reduced in price or free because their families can't easily afford the $1.90 a hot, balanced meal costs in Howard County's schools.
Add to that the cost of field trips, school clothes, new shoes, haircuts and the $40 to $50 worth of start-up supplies that most schools require each year and the price of a free public education can be daunting for families with more than one school-age child.
"Although the county is very affluent, there are families here that are very needy," said Mike Clark, an outreach worker at Christ Episcopal Church in Columbia, which started the school-supplies drive in its community last year and expanded it countywide this year. "We have the attitude that their children are our children. We're all responsible for all of them."
Clark and pupil personnel worker Peter Finck were instrumental in getting this event going.
Together, they involved the Columbia Foundation, Horizon Foundation, Rouse Co., churches and synagogues, the county's libraries and sheriff's office, the Florence Bain Senior Center, Long & Foster, BJ's, Comcast and scores of other companies, families and individuals in the donating, collecting, purchasing and backpack stuffing.
"It is really overwhelming," said school system spokeswoman Patti Caplan. "This is exactly the type of thing we're talking about when our superintendent talks about partnerships. This is an outstanding example of how a community can come together to support children and support learning."
The response from Howard county businesses and residents was astounding, Clark said. When his church began a similar effort last year, it collected 173 backpacks. He said he never expected to increase that effort tenfold.
"This is the biggest response we've had of school supplies at the beginning of the school year," said pupil personnel worker Joyce McKinney.
In years past, teachers and the pupil personnel workers - who act as links between at-risk students and their families and school system and community services - had to purchase school supplies for needy students out of their pockets.
Because of limited budgets, some students would go without.
"We really felt it was a question of fairness," Clark said. "How can you expect children to learn with their peers if they don't have the right supplies?"