Salvation Army, Cargill Salt partner to make sure students are ready for school

HERSEY — Buying pencils, crayons, paper and backpacks for children can add up quickly for parents.

To ease the cost factor of purchasing school supplies for many families, the Salvation Army and Cargill Salt teamed up to provide a backpack for Evart Elementary students.

The pilot program, Osceola County Tools for Schools, provides those necessary back-to-school supplies for around 320 first- through fifth-grade students.

Donating funds to purchase those items and time from volunteers to pack more than 300 backpacks, Cargill Salt's volunteer branch, Cargill Cares Program, stepped up to the challenge.

“(Cargill Salt) had volunteers for bell ringing for the Salvation Army for two years, and I called them up and asked them what else they would like to do,” said Chris Vallette, development director for the Salvation Army. “We had a brainstorming meeting, and came up with the idea.”

Despite different shifts and scheduling, Patty Esch, who heads up the Cargill Cares Program, said it is important for the company to give back to the community.

“The Cargill Cares Program is always looking for ways to get involved,” she said. “The program is responsible for designating where and how donations are used, and this time, it was decided to help local elementary school with school supplies.”

“We noticed that a lot of folks are using GoFundMe pages to help raise funds with school supplies,” said Vallette. “This really fulfills Cargill's goal of being involved in the community and in the schools, and it meets our goal of helping people in need.”

Esch, other Cargill Cares volunteers and Vallette met with Evart Elementary principal Sarah Bailey in the spring to see if providing backpacks would be a good idea.

“I think it is an amazing, amazing gift,” she said. “The generosity of this community never ceases to amaze me.”

Bailey pointed out 76 percent of students at Evart Elementary receive free or reduced lunches.

“We have students and families who are struggling with poverty,” she said. “To receive this gift allows them to be prepared for school and eases the burden for parents to be prepared for school. It will allow parents the opportunity to spend that money on other supplies that they may need for school, such as boots or jackets.”

Vallette said this year's effort is the start of a pilot program for the Salvation Army, which covers Osceola, Mecosta, Lake, and Newaygo counties.

“This is a great program to help local family and kids,” he said. “We're looking to partnering with Cargill and others to expand this to other schools in our service area.”

For more information about the Salvation Army, visit sabigrapids.org.