TUBA CITY, Ariz. - For most students, back-to-school is a highlight to the end of summer. It's a time when there are special trips to load up on the newest and coolest fall school supplies for the year. But for some, it can be a time of embarrassment because there are families that cannot afford even basic school supplies.
"The number of children in need of basic school supplies is astonishing," said Hope MacDonald-Lone Tree, council delegate for Tonnees'dizi (Tuba City).
Nationwide studies report that children unable to afford school supplies often miss class for the first few weeks, hoping their lack of supplies will be less obvious.
"As Navajo people, we stress the importance of education, but we need to give our children the tools they need ..." MacDonald-Lone Tree said. "Studies show that when a child has even the most basic school supplies, their attendance and grades increase.
Well aware there are many families who cannot afford adequate school supplies for their children, MacDonald-Lone Tree began working closely with the Office Depot Foundation last year. The foundation provides backpacks with essential school supplies to non-profit organizations and schools across the U.S. and Canada through the 2008 Office Depot Foundation National Backpack Program. The recipients, in turn, give the backpacks to children they serve in classrooms and through social service programs.
MacDonald-Lone Tree learned about the Office Depot Foundation through the National Foundation for Women Legislators, where she serves on the executive board. She began working to get them to come to the Navajo Nation and last Monday, Aug. 11, her efforts came to fruition when the foundation's vice president, Stephen Jordan, personally delivered 4,000 backpacks to the Tuba City Community Center.
Students ranging from kindergarten to sixth grade were bussed in from nearby schools to choose between green, purple, orange and the most popular backpack color this season - pink.
"They enjoyed it; they were really excited they could pick out the color they wanted," said Theresa Hatathlie of the Tonanees'dizi Boys and Girls Club.
The backpacks contained a pencil pouch, ruler, crayons, glue stick, pen, pencil, pencil sharpener and an eraser.
As soon as students received their bags, they quickly opened them to compare the contents. Some parents who have children in boarding school also stopped by to pick up bags for their children.
Hatathlie said some parents were as ecstatic about the bags as the children were and expressed sincere gratitude.
Some commented it was a tremendous help since the high cost of fuel and food has left them very little for school supply shopping.
Exactly 2,504 back-packs were distributed and the rest will be delivered to schools in the coming week. The foundation said this has been the first time they have donated bags to the Navajo Nation. Hatathlie said she has already seen many of students walking home with the new bags on their backs and is looking forward to passing out the rest.
"I work with a lot of kids who are on the brink of success and something like this just kind of wipes away all the challenges you have to face," she said. "It was a community partnership, but Hope MacDonald-Lone Tree is the one who made the initial contact. We were like the elves who delivered the bags."
The Honorable Speaker Lawrence T. Morgan complimented MacDonald-Lone Tree for making the connections to bring the Office Depot Foundation to the Navajo Nation and for staying on task to ensure our children are equipped with the necessary supplies for their education.
"With this generous donation, 4,000 of our Navajo children will start the school year on the right foot," Morgan said.