BELTON (July 26, 2013) -- Kids will get a fresh start with hand-picked school supplies and a new outfit as they begin their first day of school in Belton.
Project Apple Tree, which began 13 years ago, collects money and donated items throughout the year for children who would have to do without.
This year about 20 churches participated by taking 600 tags. Each tag has the child's first name, age, sizes and grade. People were asked to take the tag and provide a complete outfit, athletic shoes and undergarments for the child.
Organizations and clubs also offered support. Altrusa International, a women's service club, provided hygiene packets. "Each child will get a big bottle of shampoo, bar of soap and a washcloth," said Jeannette Kelley, Director Apple Tree Project.
"A dental hygienist from Temple College, provided toothbrushes and toothpaste. Each child has been prayed over and remembered in prayer not only by the different churches that have sponsored the children but the group where we are putting it all together."
Other sponsors included the American Legion, HEB, Lion's Club, Kiwanis Club and Rotary Club. " The project has been accepted, sponsored and supported by the Belton community and it's the most caring love community anywhere," said Kelley. "They take care of their children."
Around 1,400 children in the Belton Independent School District will accompany parents to pick up their bags of goodies on August 12, in the gymnasium at the First Baptist Church of Belton.
The Bell County Health Department will also be on hand to provide immunizations. July 25, was the last day to register children for the supplies at the Helping Hands Ministry located in Belton.
"It is so exciting to see the children." said Kelley. "They get to pick their backpacks and then they get to pick up their clothing bag, we have them ready for them."
Volunteers packed up each bag based on the school supply list provided for each grade level. Others sorted through clothing, making sure clothing sizes matched the sizes listed on the cards.
Also include with the bags is a piece of paper with a little prayer for each child. "We supply the start for them and we know that also helps the parents provide more for them," said Kelley.
"These parents love their children and they want to take care of their children and we found that they are very carefull to give us the right sizes and to double check on those things. But for some children, this may be the only pair of new shoes they have all year."
The number of children in need has grown since the beginning of Project Apple Tree. But not this year. Last year, the number peaked at 1,500, but this year has dropped to 1,400.
"This number surprised me since we are opening an elementary school and growing in the district," said Kelley. "We are also distributing a week earlier than then we have in the past and so I think there is probably going to be some children who wish that their parents had signed them up."
Project Apple Tree begins their start up campaign in the schools toward the end of the year. Teachers, principals and administrators take part and can hold drives usually through their staff, according to Kelley.
"Some of the staff get to wear blue jeans or do something fun for a week if they participate," said Kelley. "Plus they love to know they area helping the children."
Kelley said they hope to boost the child's self-esteem. If a child shows up and doesn't have their supplies, they must let the teacher know. Sometimes the children might also be aware the child is without and that can hard on them.
"It's good when they can start school with all their supplies, and have everything they need, and they look like every other child in the classroom, said Kelley. "Looking sharp, with their brand new sports shoes, new jeans and shirt and feeling good about themselves. "They are off to a great start in school."