By Oliver Lazenby
For many students, new clothes and a backpack filled with fresh school supplies add excitement to the beginning of the school year.
But not everyone can afford those things. For those who can’t, the Blaine school district’s Family Service Center can provide school supplies and a variety of other services to equip students and allow them to focus on school.
The Family Service Center, a packed room behind a blue door on the south side of the middle school gym, is busy at the beginning of the school year. So far it has supplied 172 students with backpacks loaded with supplies geared toward their grade level, said the center’s interim director Bob Feaster, a former assistant superintendent at Chico Unified School District in northern California who retired to Birch Bay and substitutes at Blaine schools. He’s filling in for Jessie Burton, who is expected to return in October.
Throughout the year, families and students can stock up from the center’s collection: boxes of backpacks, shelves of binders, notebooks, pens and pencils, coats, socks and underwear, soap, toothpaste, laundry detergent and other household items.
“We’re not a bank – we don’t earn interest on carrying inventory – our goal is to get it out the door to those who need it,” Feaster said. “We have people in here crying because they’re overwhelmed with kindness.”
The center’s services extend well beyond those items. Depending on what’s available, it can provide families with vouchers for gas, food and shoes. It works with other organizations including the Opportunity Council and Assistance League to help families find housing, get counseling, enroll in Medicaid and assist with thanksgiving baskets, toys and other holiday needs. It also coordinates transportation for homeless students.
“We try to get creative in helping people,” Feaster said.
The center is funded mostly through donations. It can always use money, but that’s not the only way to help the Family Service Center, Feaster said.
Some community groups have put together snack bags, shopped for clothes or used connections to get the center discounts.
Feaster strives to make the center accessible and comfortable for those who need it.
“We want to make it easy to get services because for a lot of families who come here, it’s embarrassing,” he said. “I want families and students to know what this is a place they can just come to and get what they need without a lot of questions being asked.”
The center is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 11:15 a.m., and 1:45 p.m. to 3 p.m.