Suppling the tools to learn
Hazelwood-based KidSmart brings school supplies into over 3,000 underserved classrooms in need
By Charlotte Beard
KidSmart, currently based out of Hazelwood, is the only free educational supply store in Missouri and it was started back in 2002 by Jennifer Miller. Jill Laux, Director of Charitable Giving for the organization states that it is operated by five employees with the help of a host of volunteers and sponsors.
“Jennifer was a teacher in the Rockwood School District, stated Laux of the founder, “and was so blown away by the fact that she had many students coming to class without school supplies – they didn’t even have the tools that are essential for learning. She was experiencing this in her own classroom and felt this passion and need to be able to provide her students with school supplies that they needed. That (passion) transformed into figuring out that right now there are over 90,000 children in St. Louis that do not have school supplies. That’s enough to fill Busch Stadium twice.”
Laux shared that since 2002, Miller has been able to provide over $57 million dollars-worth of free school supplies in the St. Louis area.
“We rely heavily on our volunteer staff, which is amazing, and donors in the St. Louis area. We’ve got corporate volunteers and individual volunteers that (in) what they bring to the table is mind blowing – it’s awesome.”
Volunteers come to KidSmart’s warehouse to help in various ways not limited to unloading, packing and stocking school supplies.
Laux stated, “We also have corporate volunteers who show up at the schools with us to deliver supplies to the kids. In 2018 we pushed into almost 3,000 classrooms; we were able to bring free school supplies directly into these classrooms.”
This school delivery program that KidSmart began last year, On the Go!, is one of their eight programs and partnerships. It is a partnership with Kids Vision for Life and Americorps VISTA. The program’s truck takes its services on the road to classrooms. A day is coordinated with each school KidSmart sponsors for the weekly program.
“In 2018, we also launched pop-up shops because we’ve seen that teachers love that experience,” Laux shared of the initiative that uses approximately 100 volunteers. “We would just show up at one of our corporate sponsors’ parking lots and in three hours we were able to distribute about $300,000 worth of school supplies.”
Crafts with Conviction, another of KidSmart’s programs, utilizes over 1,000 offenders in Missouri correctional facilities every year who donate over 500,000 hours of their time to create educational and learning materials.
“Crafts with Conviction is something we do with the Missouri Department of Corrections,” stated Laux. “We have inmates working on projects for us. Some of them have told us that they enjoy working on these projects for kids because they think [their] child may be getting to use some of (the) things that (they’re) making. It’s been a really important project for us.”
Laux shared that any school that is 70 percent free with a reduced lunch, is state certified, and has a self-contained classroom teacher, is eligible for KidSmart. The organization currently provides school supplies to 161 schools in the St. Louis area. The goal is to expand regionally.
“We have found that the need is great in a lot of rural areas and across the state in general,” stated Laux.
Though KidSmart’s current exact location is undisclosed to the general public, the organization is working on buying a building that will have a giant warehouse at which teachers can “shop” free for their students. A big capital campaign is underway to raise money for the building initiative.
“School supplies are consumable,” stated Laux. “(Kids) may go through a couple pencils in one month. A lot of times people will focus on that back-to-school time, but we find that teachers really need us in January, and February because the glue sticks have been gone through and the crayons are gone. So, it’s a constant need. The mobile way of delivering the supplies to the school can be costly. We’re always looking for underwriting sponsors.”
One of the biggest ways that KidSmart is financially supported, enabling them to provide school supplies for kids, is through Joe Buck’s annual back-to-school celebrity event. Plans are currently underway for the annual event.
Laux stated, “We run on donations and volunteer efforts. We truly believe that education is the way to break the cycle of poverty. So, if there are individuals, organizations or corporate groups that want to donate or be a part of volunteering for KidSmart, we would love to have them.”
CUTLINE: Submitted photos Since 2002, KidSmart has been able to provide over $57 million dollars-worth of free school supplies in the St. Louis area.