Pencils + paper = high cost for students | Kitsap Week

Marilyn Gremse, Helpline House manager of volunteer services,and volunteer Lydia Olsen hold backpacks that will be given to students before school begins. - Erin Jennings
Marilyn Gremse, Helpline House manager of volunteer services,and volunteer Lydia Olsen hold backpacks that will be given to students before school begins.
— image credit: Erin Jennings

The beginning of the school year brings a mixed bag of emotions for students.

There’s sadness over summer ending, nerves about new classes and excitement about seeing friends.

But for some area families, the beginning of the school year can also be stressful as they try to fulfill the required supply list.

That's where local social services agencies step in to help lessen the burden by providing supplies to Kitsap children.

As school districts tighten their budgets, many types of supplies previously provided by the schools (such as printer paper and dry-erase markers) are now being sought from the students.

“The list that the kids are in need of has gotten longer and longer,” said Jennifer Hardison, executive director of South Kitsap Helpline. “School has gotten expensive.”

All five agencies interviewed for the article said the need for school supply donations is steep. Many commented that this year donations have come in at a trickling pace.

“We can only go out to the public and ask for donations so many times,” said Bremerton Foodline's executive director Patti Peterson. “And really, our priority is food.”

All the agencies expect to serve the same number or more of students as they did last year.

“It's been said that the recession is over, but we were the last to be hit by it, so we will probably be the last to recover,” said Karen Timken, executive director of North Kitsap Fishline.

At ShareNet in Kingston, executive director Mark Ince said last year the organization’s back-to- school event served 135 students and this year he expects the number to reach 160. The program has grown to where it is now sponsored by community members who take the lead on the shopping, organizing and other logistics.

This year's sponsors are Karina Ritchey and Pat Bennett-Forman. “They really do the heavy lifting on behalf of the agency,” Ince said.

Marilyn Gremse, manager of volunteer services at Helpline House on Bainbridge Island, said Helpline tries to be a place where some equalization and “leveling of the playing field” can happen. The money generated from its Project Backpack drive helps purchase school supplies, as well as fund school-related expenses such as sports fees and field trips.

Hardison said this year South Kitsap Helpline is partnering with the school district to distribute supplies at the back to school celebration. Hardison estimates close to 600 students will be served.

For the past eight years, Jim Peek has organized the Cruise-In Car Show on Tuesday evenings from 6-8 p.m. on the corner of Highway 305 and Madison Avenue on Bainbridge Island. The summer-long event through Aug. 30 raises money for Helpline House’s Project Backpack. Peek was motivated to help with the school-supply drive because, “As a child, I remember how important it was to have a fresh start every year.”

To this day, Peek said his new year aligns with the school's start, not the calendar.

Inspired by the cars at the Cruise-In Car Show, nine-year-old artist Henry Vandersluis took his car drawings and turned them into a school-year calendar. The proceeds from the $14 calendar go to Project Backpack. The calendar is available at the car show and Peek reports sales have been strong.

Each agency's school supply program is run a bit differently, but they all have the common goal to help children. (See below for specific information.)

“If someone is shopping for their own children and they are in a financial situation that affords them to pick up a couple of extra things, we would be grateful,” Hardison said. “If everyone picked up a few extra things and donated them, it would help a lot.”

The response from the children participating in the program has been overwhelmingly positive said Helpline House volunteer, Lydia Olsen.  As a former teacher, Olsen recognizes that having the necessary supplies can help build a student’s confidence. “They are delighted,” Olsen said. “And it’s a real ego-booster.”

School Supply Information By Agency

Please note, children receiving services must be located in the service area that the agency covers. For example, if you live in Poulsbo, contact North Kitsap Fishline.

Bainbridge Island Helpline House:

Important dates: Preregister through Aug. 19, event held on Aug. 30.

Donations: In specific need of new backpacks and three-inch binders, as well as general supplies. (Note: they have a sufficient supply of crayons, blunt-tipped scissors and bottle glue.)

Information:, 282 Knechtel Way NE Bainbridge Island, (206) 842-7621.

Bremerton Foodline:

Important dates: Event is on Aug. 20 from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. (or until supplies are depleted.) Children receiving the supplies must be present.

Donations: In need of general supplies. Donations received after Aug. 20 will be taken to Bremerton-area schools to distribute appropriately.

Information:, 1600 12th St., Bremerton. (360) 479-6188.

North Kitsap Fishline:

Important dates: Currently accepting sign-ups, pick up supplies on a set scheduled day.

Donations: Specifically in need of two-inch binders, pencil boxes and pens.

Information:, 8916 Third Ave. NE Poulsbo, (360) 779-5190.

ShareNet (Kingston area):

Important dates: Sign up through Aug. 23. In-person registration at the ShareNet food bank is required.

Donations: In need of general supplies.

Information:, 26061 United Road NE # A, Kingston, (360) 297-2266.

South Kitsap Helpline (Port Orchard area):

Important date: Donations will be distributed at the Back to School Celebration on Aug. 20 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the South Kitsap High School track. It’s suggested to attend the event near 11 a.m., as supplies are expected to run out quickly.

Donations: In need of general supplies.

Information: South Kitsap Helpline, 1012 Mitchell Ave., Port Orchard. (360) 876-4089.

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