Four-year-old Tristin Reynolds grinned as he tried on a pair of “Cars” tennis shoes Tuesday at the UAW Local 685 in Kokomo.
Those are the ones, he said. In fact, he was so excited that he tried to wear the shoes right out of the building.
Those are for school, his mom told him.
Tristin was among about 200 kids who received free school supplies and shoes Tuesday during the annual United Auto Workers giveaway.
The giveaway continues through the end of this week at the UAW building on Hoffer Street.
“It really helps out,” said Tristin’s mom, Rebecca Craig.
Craig has four children ages 4 to 18, and buying school supplies gets expensive, she said — especially when she’s working to put herself through college at the same time.
The UAW partners with United Way of Howard County to sponsor the giveaway, which serves about 325 families and 1,000 children each year.
“We’re trying to catch those families who fall through the cracks,” said Cheryl Graham, AFL-CIO labor activity director.
Many of the families they serve have part-time or low-paying jobs at restaurants, factories, gas stations, hotels and retail stores, Graham said.
After they pay their normal bills, they often don’t have enough money left for school supplies, which can cost as much as $90 for one child, she said.
“They’re struggling already,” Graham said. “This can put them over the edge.”
Last year, the local UAW handed out 23,000 items to 329 families. The organization gave away 656 pairs of shoes, 295 clothing items and 500 backpacks.
She said the families are always so thankful and the children so excited.
“That’s the way we want them to start school ... excited to learn,” Graham said. “They say, ‘I’m proud. I have brand new scissors and brand new paper. I don’t have a stub for a pencil.’”
She said it’s nice to be able to help a few struggling families, even if they can’t help them all.
This year, Abundant Life Church in Kokomo is trying to fill that gap.
Church members filled 1,000 backpacks with school supplies and are giving them away to all kindergarten through 12th grade students in Taylor Community Schools.
For the past five years, they’ve given backpacks to the children in their own church but wanted to reach out into the community when they moved to their new location on Ind. 26, pastor Charles Riley said.
They chose to fill 1,000 backpacks because it would be a big enough challenge that it would take God to help them out, Riley said.
Riley challenged the congregation, and they came through, he said. Almost every item was purchased and donated by church members.
“Our heart is we want to serve the community with no strings attached, and show people the church is all about doing what it can to be a blessing,” Riley said.
Michelle Haus, deputy treasurer at Taylor Community Schools, said it will certainly be a blessing.
“With the financial problems a lot of families are having these days, the churches providing backpacks and school supplies means there’s one less thing parents have to purchase,” she said. “These backpacks filled with supplies will relieve a little bit of burden on a lot of families at Taylor.”
• Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune education reporter, may be reached at 765-454-8585 or firstname.lastname@example.org