What many students may take for granted, others appreciate the basics from Kids in Need

Building Stronger Communities

Kathy Hirko remembers well how she was inspired to help found in 2001 the Kids in Need Resource Center in Cleveland.

She was attending the grand opening in Washington, D.C., of a new resource center for the Kids in Need Foundation, a national charitable organization founded in 1995 to distribute school supplies to needy children.

“When I saw how a little girl was impacted when she received a junior legal pad, it just amazed me,” Hirko says. “So I came home and started thinking — I asked the national foundation if we could start a Kids in Need center. They answered, ‘Great! You just need to find a local sponsor.’”

An office products sales rep at the time, Hirko leveraged her connections with OfficeMax and co-founder Michael Feuer to be a local sponsor. OfficeMax supported the center for its first five years and then became a national sponsor.

“The bad thing is we then lost our local funding,” Hirko says. “So we had to put our thinking caps on and say, ‘OK, we need to find local funding.’ After a golf outing was not too successful, I proposed a high-end cocktail reception and auction. We decided to give that a try and this is our 11th annual event.”

Schools in the hundreds

In its 15 years, the Cleveland Kids in Need Resource Center has grown from helping 25 schools to more than 250.

“Through the years we went from serving Cleveland schools and adding East Cleveland schools, Euclid schools, and now we include all the schools that qualify throughout Cuyahoga County.” Hirko says.

A school qualifies for Kids in Need if at least 65 percent of its students are on the federally funded lunch program.

Estimates say that teachers often spend up to $1,200 out-of-pocket on their classes for basic school supplies: pencils, glue sticks, crayons, notebooks and copy paper. Kids in Need collects these items through business donations and also holds fundraisers to generate operating cash.

This year, the value of the product received for distribution was $3.094 million.

Hirko says teacher shopping visits for the 2014-15 school year were up 26 percent, from 3,330 to 4,155. While monetary donations are much appreciated — even though the Cleveland center is part of the national network, it has to raise all its local funding.

One of the most visible projects has been the Stuff the Bus campaign, held by WJW-TV to collect items for Kids in Need. It began about 10 years ago when the station wanted to collect school supplies but needed some way to distribute them once received.

“We have been blessed by adding Stuff the Bus as a donor and that growth provides for another resource to get product and people involved,” Hirko says. “We have companies come down with vans full of products and individuals will come down with bags. We will take both. One year we stuffed 12 buses with pens and pencils. We estimate the value of some of those buses as close to $10,000.”

Differing ways of involvement

Hirko says companies get involved in different ways.

“ShurTech Brands will donate glue sticks. If printers have an overrun, or if they have the wrong color, we will take that entire product. We had a printing company last year that brought a van full with discontinued product. If a company is changing its logo, if it is changing their address, we can accept all that product as long as it is not used. If somebody’s letterhead is changing, for example, when PNC bought National City Bank, the bank gave us all kinds of product. When Progressive Insurance changed its ad campaign, they company donated material to us.”

Some companies offer to collect items internally, and Kids in Need will come pick them up or companies can bring the items to the center, which is a type of a mock store. Teachers can log onto the website and schedule when they want to come and do their “shopping”. They “shop” for either products they can utilize in the classroom, that they can give to the child to take home, or that they can use as an incentive to bring kids to school.

“Teachers are very creative. Sometimes we get products that are craft-oriented, carpets or little umbrellas; they will use all that,” Hirko says.

“We get many thank-you letters from kids. They will say, ‘You are the most generous person in the world. You’ve give us crayons, you give us pencils.’ And we are just dumbfounded. We take that all for granted.”

How to reach: Cleveland Kids in Need, (216) 361-0840 or www.clevelandkidsinneed.org

Coming events for Kids in Need

Stuff the Bus
Thursday, Aug. 4
WJW-TV, 5800 Dick Goddard Way in Cleveland.
School supplies will be accepted; individual donations and corporate donation product welcome.

The 11th Annual Night at the Shorebay Club
Tuesday, Aug. 9
40 Shoreby Dr., Bratenahl
Registration required
Visit www.clevelandkidsinneed.org