MANATEE COUNTY -- Armed with a supply of backpacks, notebooks, uniform-compliant clothes and a deep sense of appreciation, Manatee County principals -- especially those who serve the poorest students -- are eagerly awaiting returning students today, after receiving an increase in donations this summer.
"Our storage closet is overflowing," Orange Ridge-Bullock Elementary School Principal Maribeth Mason said last week. "We've had an unbelievable outpouring of donations."
Donations to Orange Ridge have come from the American Legion, the Masonic Lodge, Bethel Baptist Church, Bayside Community Church and others. And Mason isn't alone in seeing an uptick in donations this year. While the district doesn't tightly track all donations to each district school, there seems to be an increase this year, said Megan Johnson, the school district's Title I coordinator for the school district.
"I think more people are seeing the ways they can actually help," Johnson said. "There's a definitely a sense in the community that's spreading."
The supplies and donations are important, especially for the Title I students, who typ
ically start at a greater disadvantage than their non-Title I peers, Johnson said. But even the non Title I schools serve children rising from poverty and have also benefited from supply drives and donations.
Deb Houston sees the increase at Manatee Elementary School, and says the public awareness, including Superintendent Diana Greene's recent talks with community organizations about the Title I schools and partnerships, have helped.
"That, too, has enabled people to get involved," Houston said.
The Palmetto Men's Auxiliary VFW provides a check each month -- sometimes $400, sometimes $1,500 -- to Palm View Elementary School, Principal Angela Essig said.
"I've been blown away," she said. "That's pretty huge."
Palm View also benefits from Winterset RV Resort, the American Legion and Wells Fargo, among other.
"It means so much, especially to the kids," Essig said.
Palmetto Presbyterian Church has been working with the school for the past few years, including providing a jacket to every student at the start of winter.
On Thursday, MCR Health Services delivered buckets full of supplies to district's newly hired graduation enhancement technicians at the Professional Support Center. The technicians will work in the district's 25 Title I schools to help decrease chronic absenteeism as part of the Grade-Level Reading Campaign.
Throughout the summer, MCR Health Services had 27 different dropoff locations in Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto counties. The goal was to collect 100 pounds of school supplies. More than 900 pounds of supplies were collected, MCR Health Services officials said.
"People who aren't even our patients were dropping off supplies," said Scott Works, the director of organizational development.
The graduation enhancement technicians will bring the supplies with them to the Title I schools.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.