Help Me Learn Program Outfits Kids for School
July 13, 2022 by Ann Wishart

It’s a while before school starts, but many families are already trying to budget for supplies and new clothes.

It’s a while before school starts, but many families are already trying to budget for supplies and new clothes.

This year, with the cost of everything going up, some parents may be wondering how to outfit their offspring for their first exciting day.

On Aug. 3, Geauga County Job and Family Services volunteers will welcome qualified families to the 16th annual Help Me Learn program at the Morning Star Friends Church, 12550 Ravenna Road.

Sara Shininger, GCJFS community support coordinator, said the event has attracted 400 to 600 students for each of the last five years, even when the department had to hand out drive-by bags of items during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thanks to generous donations from individuals, businesses, civic organizations and clubs, students will leave the church Aug. 3 with haircuts, backpacks, clothing and supplies, all contributed, she said.

“It’s definitely a community collaboration,” Shininger said. “It’s all donations. No tax dollars are being spent to buy supplies or pay for services.”

Each school-aged child also will receive free eye and dental exams while shopping, Shininger said.

“When they leave, these kids are ready for school,” she said. “It’s a fun event. They are so excited to walk away with new stuff.”

The program for Geauga County families on public assistance started out 16 years ago, providing a few school supplies at the GCJFS building, Shininger said.

Besides the event on Aug. 3, Help Me Learn will be open at the Chagrin Falls Park Community Center Aug. 5 for a second distribution to help students in that neighborhood as well.

Some of their parents don’t have transportation or might not be able to get to the church during the day on Aug. 3, Shininger said.

Families have to qualify and register with GCJFS to participate. If parents or guardians can document the family is on food stamps or Medicaid, for instance, their children should qualify for Help Me Learn. Families caring for foster children may also qualify, she said.

But GCJFS has some flexibility when establishing qualifications, such as demonstrating income.

“Many (parents) are working and they are just teetering just above the cutoff for assistance,” Shininger said. “We call it the benefit cliff.”

With the cost of food and gas higher than previous years, many of the working poor lack the resources to buy extras for the beginning of school, she said.

“We take into consideration the family’s current situation. It’s great to be able to have that flexibility, particularly in the tough times we are going through now,” Shininger said.

Families can register until the end of July by visiting the department at 12611 Ravenna Road in Claridon Township and Shininger is available to provide advice on how to get registered.

The department will be moving to the new Geauga County office building mid-July, so the current office will have a skeleton crew in residence, she said.

“The easiest way is to call me at 440-285-9141 extension 1263,” she said.