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Amsterdam, NY ,



As another school year dawns, the community lends a hand

Thursday, August 28, 2014 - Updated: 10:26 AM


Recorder News Staff

For students, the first day of school comes with a lot of baggage -- literally.

Some school supply lists are growing, and with Common Core mandates and other classroom requirements, the number of tools students need to survive has multiplied.

For some parents, providing supplies to their children is not possible.

Fortunately, some churches in Amsterdam are among those that recognize the need to assist members of the community who struggle at this time of year.

Volunteers from local parishes have been distributing backpacks filled with supplies so children do not head off to the school bus empty-handed.

At Comfort Zone Ministry, a program Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church runs to aid the less fortunate, volunteers last year distributed roughly 300 book bags stuffed with school essentials.

The group was shooting to give away more than 400 again on Tuesday.

"People are in need in this area. In fact, we had people asking us last month, 'Aren't you giving out the book bags?'" ministry volunteer Jean Amy Swenson said. "If you look at the supply list the schools are asking for, it is horrendous."

Swenson and Deacon Bette Errig are co-directors of the Comfort Zone.

The duo started the program in 2009 after witnessing a similar initiative in Canajoharie.

The backpack distribution is aimed at students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Before the distribution, volunteers fill book bags with pens, pencils, a ruler, a pair of scissors, pink pearl erasers, a box of crayons, two glue sticks, a sharpener, a spiral note book, a composition notebook, and folders.

She said the merchandise is either donated or purchased, and many local churches help out with the effort.

Amsterdam Printing Co. also donated lunch bags for the ministry to give out.

Swenson said school supply lists can leave parents spending up to $200 per child, and many parents cannot afford to provide the essentials to every youngster.

She noticed an uptick in local residents searching for help this time of year.

On Tuesday, many residents and their children lined up outside of the ministry, waiting to receive the offerings.

Community members started lining up around 3:30 p.m., and had to register with the ministry in order to receive the free supplies.

The distribution began at 6 p.m., and Swenson said some of the children's reactions are priceless.

Similar to the Comfort Zone Ministry, the Calvary Assembly of God Church is hosting a book bag giveaway on Labor Day. Terri Marcuccio, an administrative assistant at the church, said volunteers will start distributing at 10 a.m. and the event ends at noon.

The church is looking to pass out about 120 book bags filled with school necessities, from crayons to notebooks.

Marcuccio said students in kindergarten through fifth grade qualify for the bags, and each youth has to be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Additionally, each child has to bring an old report card or assignment to prove they are a student.

Marcuccio said many donations have flowed in to the church, which also reached out to stores along Route 30 for contributions.

She said Calvary always hosts giveaway programs on Labor Day, but just recently started to give out book bags.

"We just saw there was a need in the community. They are going to school with no crayons or nothing to carry their books in," she said.

As a mom, Marcuccio can attest to the overwhelming school supply lists handed out each year.

She said the need in the community is there, and no student should go without on the first day of school.

"It gives them a little self-confidence. They are not going to be singled out for not having new stuff," she said.

R.J. McNulty Academy for International Studies and Literacy Magnet School third grade teacher Karyn Cognetti agrees. She has taught at McNulty for 24 years, and said students start off on the right foot when fully prepared for classes.

Additionally, Cognetti said students tend to get more excited for school when they are shopping for school supplies.

She said with Common Core standards, children are expected to keep notebooks for every subject. Additionally, she said teachers now have students reflecting on their school work, which requires additional notebooks and folders, among other supplies.

Although teachers do pitch in and purchase supplies for the classrooms, Cognetti said there are requests for extra, "more fun" items.

She understands the merchandise does not come cheaply, and the help from the local churches is a wonderful way to start the school year.

"They get excited, they know they have their supplies, they know they are prepared," Cognetti said. "It makes for a huge impact on how successful they are through the year."

Contact Caroline Murray at


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