By Contributing Editor Blair Drake
In Washington state, the Olympia Area Chapter of MOAA is making sure students from military families have the school supplies the need at the start of the school year.
Operation North Thurston Backpack provides children from active duty and veteran families that are experiencing financial difficulties with a new backpack full of every grade-specific school supply they need in time for their first day of school.
“One of the most devastating consequences of financial distress and homelessness in families is the impact it can have on a child's education,” said Col. Howard Lim, USA (Ret), chapter president. “Without assistance, many of these children would begin the school year with no backpack and few, if any, school supplies. So, on day one, these kids would be identified as ‘disadvantaged’ or stigmatized, which can set the stage for their entire school year.”
The chapter is one of 23 recognized this year by the MOAA Foundation’s Community Outreach Grant program, which provides grants to MOAA chapters that are giving back to the military community through programs that provide needed support, services, and recognition. The grant funds will cover the cost of the backpacks and supplies. The chapter also is looking to partner with another local veterans’ group that will match the foundation grant.
“We’ve been planning this project for two years,” said Lim. "We are thrilled the MOAA grant gives us the chance to support to our local community.”
The children benefiting from this program are enrolled in the North Thurston School District, which has an enrollment of over 15,000 students.
Approximately 9% are students from active duty families, and around 3,000 students have parents who have veteran status, said Lim. He estimates that nearly 10% of the 702 students currently identified as homeless might have some type of military affiliation.
“Support to these children is vital to any community that believes in the value of quality education for all children regardless of financial circumstances,” Lim said.
The program is important to the Olympia Area Chapter not only because of the impact it has on local military children but also on the chapter. “It gives our chapter a purpose,” Lim said. “One of our chapter objectives is to help our community, and this project does just that — makes a difference in our community. It’s a feel-good opportunity for our members and an opportunity to make MOAA more visible locally.”
Blair Drake is a contributing editor for MOAA and lives in Souderton, Pa. She previously served on the editorial team of Military Officer magazine for nine years.