MANATEE -- The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks Lodge No. 2449 of Palmetto is planning a Back to School Party in July for 200 needy children from the Palmetto area.
The lodge won grants totaling $6,000 from the state and national Elks organization for the party where every child will be given a backpack stuffed with school supplies.
Elks Lodge Secretary Judy Vergason, 71, who successfully applied for the grants, stretched the money through heads-up shopping that took six months to complete.
According to her records, Vergason bought nearly 30 different items on the public school required list costing an estimated $17,345 for the quantity needed, which was 200. The savvy shopper, however, bought all needed items for $4,941.
"Judy spends hours and hours on the computer trying to pick up websites that most people don't think about," said Vergason's boyfriend, World War II veteran and 25-year Elk member Frank Campbell, 89, of Palmetto, who went shopping with Vergason and helped carry everything to the car. "She is an efficient shopper. While the rest of us have been watching ballgames or going to the movies, she has had her nose in a computer or newspaper clippings."
Said 10-year Elk Vergason: "I got 200 pairs of school scissors for 50 cents apiece at Dollar Tree, which would have been $1.99 any place else. I got 200 boxes of generic 24-pack Crayola Crayons for 25 cents each at a Walmart sale and normally they would be $2.99 for the brand name."
In one of her best buys, she bought 200 backpacks valued at $20 for just $5 each, she said -- a $3,000 savings.
"I searched the web and played one website against the other," Vergason added.
She found sales on pencil cases, pens, pencils, erasers, scissors, hand sanitizer, spiral and composition notebooks, folders with two pockets and three prongs, rulers, wet wipes, dry erase markers and many other items.
"I started last August," Vergason said with a laugh. "Everything was in my guest bedroom and now it's been moved to my garage in Palmetto. A group of us will start packing the backpacks this week."
Students who will benefit were discovered by Robert Boltz, Vergason said.
"Robert has a generous heart and a great concern for children, and his niche is to find the neediest of the needy children," Vergason said.
Vergason downplays her achievement.
"This is really about the generosity of the Elks, who supplied the funds in the first place," Vergason said. "Frank and I are only two of the instruments of the Elks to help fulfill this undertaking."
Elks volunteers will also put up decorations and organize the party, which will feature hot dogs, chips and other goodies.
"At the end of the day, the children will be given backpacks, so that when they go to school they are just like every other child in their class," Vergason said.
Vergason said she will share her shopping skills for others doing Back to School parties. Call her at 941-524-8222.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @ RichardDymond.