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Helping Needy Oregon Families, One Kid at a Time

December 27, 2011

PORTLAND, Ore. - The Oregon Education Association Foundation is the charitable arm of the teachers' union. It administers a fund donated by school employees and the public. Teachers or other school workers apply for small grants (typically up to $100) to help a student get new glasses, clothing, shoes or supplies they would otherwise go without.

This year, Foundation chair Hanna Vaandering says the grant applications are being processed at the brisk pace of about $4,000 a week - and she has heard many sad stories, as well as thanks.

"What parents are going through to try to make sure that their child has what they need to be successful is heartbreaking, because these people are doing everything they can to find employment. Many of them are extremely grateful for what the Foundation has done to help them and their child."

This year's grant requests have reflected the growing number of homeless families in the state, Vaandering says. Retired teachers process the applications as volunteers, to minimize the Foundation's administrative costs.

David Spackman, a school counselor in Vernonia, handles the grant applications for the elementary and middle schools there. He says unemployment has hit the area hard, and there's also a growing number of foster children in town. The items needed most often are shoes and clothing, he says.

"I see it having an effect on their self-esteem. When they're wearing shoes that are falling apart and clothes that don't fit them, and they can replace those with clothes that are new and fit well and that maybe are even in style, their attitude about school actually improves."

Beaverton school counselor Chris Sonnichsen says they've had more requests this year for pillows, sheets and blankets, in addition to school clothes.

"We find that a lot of our kids just don't have those basic needs met. And pajamas - they don't have pajamas. Some kids have never had slippers or a robe, because it's just not important enough when you need a jacket."

In most cases, the person who requests the grant goes with the family to shop for the items.

Donations can be made to the Foundation online at (click on "OEA Foundation).

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR