A non-profit organization lent a helping hand to local families preparing for the upcoming school year on Saturday.
Santiago Medina, 4, left, gestures towards mother Paula Gil as she opens his backpack while Gabriella Gil, 12, second from right, has her backpack opened by Maria Idarraga during a backpack giveaway hosted by the Early Learning Coalition of Alachua County in Gainesville on Saturday. (Lawren Simmons/Special to the Sun)
Tina Days, right, grabs diapers for her daughter Shelby Rose, 2, accompanied by her other daughter Jasmine Days, 12, center, during a backpack giveaway hosted by the Early Learning Coalition of Alachua County in Gainesville on Saturday. (Lawren Simmons/Special to the Sun)
To help ease the financial strain many parents are facing following a post-pandemic economy, Early Learning Coalition of Alachua County held a back-to-school supply giveaway at the Kiwanis Challenge Park in Northwest Gainesville from 9 a.m. to noon.
“Since the pandemic, we’re trying to do more outreach, trying to help families with back-to-school supplies and letting them know about our organization,” said Jacki Hodges, CEO of Early Learning Coalition of Alachua County.
Early Learning Coalition is a non-profit organization that was created by the Florida Legislature to help low-income families secure quality childcare throughout Florida. The coalition in Alachua County is one of 30 around the state.
“We also handle the Voluntary Pre-k program that runs through our organization, which is available for parents with children that are four-years-old,” said Hodges.
A steady stream of families could be seen coming and leaving the park, grateful for the extra help extended by the coalition.
“I’m really thankful for the help because supplies are expensive, especially with how prices have been going up,” said Ariane Pelham, a local mother of four with two school-aged children attending Lake Forest Elementary School in the fall.
Besides the coalition, several other organizations set up tables at the event to inform parents of newly available resources that few may know about.
Alachua Help Me Grow Florida, for example, is a brand-new organization sponsored by the Children’s Trust of Alachua County that provides free developmental screenings for new-born babies to children up to eight-years-old. The organization also helps families coordinate care for children with developmental needs.
“We can look at educational, behavioral, or developmental delays, connect (families) to the right services and follow up with them to make sure they’re getting the care that they need,” Kelsey Anhalt, program supervisor for Help Me Grow Florida, said.
Although Help Me Grow Florida is still getting off the ground in Alachua County, Anhalt says that they’re ready to serve families, especially as the new school year is fast approaching.
“There are a lot of great agencies in Gainesville, but it’s hard getting connected to them sometimes, so we want to provide that bridge,” Anhalt said.
Besides childcare, the coalition also helps families with other essential needs, including housing and utilities, according to Kesheba Lynch, childcare resource coordinator for the coalition.
“My door is an open door, you can call me and ask me anything,” said Lynch. “A lot of people don’t know there is this sort of outlet available and it’s good for them to know.”
Families that may need financial assistance are encouraged to contact Early Coalition of Alachua County at (352) 475-4110 or Alachua Help Me Grow Florida at (352) 278-7000 for help with children with developmental needs.
This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Local families welcome free school supplies offered by a non-profit.