Franklin County Back to School Fair

The Franklin County Back to School Fair held the last Friday and Saturday in July each year provides free school supplies, including backpacks, crayons, markers, pencil boxes, notebooks and more to some 1,000 students in need around the area. To pay for this, volunteers with the nonprofit group are looking to raise $13,000 through a trivia night planned for Saturday, Feb. 23, at 6:30 p.m. in Union. To register or to make a donation, call 314-650-2080 or email fcbtsf@charter.net.

With months still to go in the current school year, Janice Mantle and Theresa Wolf are already thinking about next school year.

Making sure every student has the supplies that he and she needs come August begins now, they said.

Mantle and Wolf are two of the volunteers behind the annual Franklin County Back to School Fair that provides free school supplies and more to area students in need.

The fair is always held on the last Friday and Saturday in July, but the only fundraiser the group holds to make it possible will be held later this month.

A Franklin County Back to School Fair Trivia Night is set for Saturday, Feb. 23, at 6:30 p.m. in the Union High School Old Gym off of Main Street. Cost is $15 per person.

To register, people can call 314-650-2080 or email fcbtsf@charter.net. See sidebar for more details.

The Franklin County Back to School Fair (FCBTSF), which also is the name of the nonprofit group that plans and organizes the event, aims to raise $13,000 through the trivia night and community donations to purchase new supplies for as many as 1,000 students.

“That’s the bare minimum we need,” said Wolf, FCBTSF secretary, explaining that ideally the group will raise more to help provide other needed items, like new shoes, underwear and socks.

“Over the past couple of years, we have been able to provide shoe vouchers, $20 gift cards to (a local shoe store),” said Wolf. “Those have been donated through First Christian Church of Union. The church does a special fundraiser just to raise money for the shoe vouchers.

“We can’t guarantee that will happen every year, but new shoes are one of the things that are so expensive for parents to buy, along with underwear and socks, those basic necessities, so if we could raise an extra $7,000 we could use to make sure we have the shoe vouchers or at least some shoe vouchers and new socks and new underwear for these students,” said Wolf. “It would be incredible to do that.”

Mantle, who serves as FCBTSF president, pointed out that the nonprofit organization is completely dependent on donations to fund the school supply purchases.

“We get no help from any government agency, and everything is done by volunteers,” stressed Mantle.

‘For Any Child Who Has a Need’

Parents have to register to attend the Back to School Fair by completing a flier that the FCBTSF board distributes through schools (kindergarten through high school), doctors’ offices and clinics, food pantries and other nonprofit groups, like Grace’s Place Crisis Nursery and Franklin County CASA.

“Basically any organization that works with underresourced families in Franklin County,” said Wolf. “We also work very closely with the Jefferson-Franklin Community Action Corporation for people who go there asking for help with utilities, housing or whatever their need is.”

There is an income level that families have to be at or below in order to qualify for registration. Wolf noted that it is purposely set at 200 percent higher than the poverty level in order to help those families who are right on the edge of being in need.

“The students we help are kids who are in foster care, kids who are on free and reduced lunches, kids whose parents have just lost their jobs or can’t find work,” said Wolf. “This is for any child we can find who has a need.”

The students can be attending public or parochial schools and even be homeschooled, Mantle said, noting that students attending Augusta and Marthasville elementary are eligible too because those schools are part of the Washington School District, which is in Franklin County.

What the Back to School Fair Offers

The Franklin County Back to School Fair will be open to registered families on Friday, July 26, and Saturday, July 27, from 9 a.m. to noon both days, inside First Christian Church of Union, 150 Joel Ave.

The last hour of the event, from 11 a.m. to noon on Saturday, the fair is open to anyone, even if they did not register in advance.

The fair is always well-attended, said Wolf.

“Usually there’s a line out into the parking lot and around the building,” she remarked.

There are tables filled with every type of school supply students will need — backpacks, notebooks, pencils and pens, crayons and markers, scissors, glue, pencil boxes, erasers . . .

There also are tables filled with gently used clothing and gently used children’s books, as well as places where students can receive a free haircut and free eye screening.

Students are given a free meal of hot dogs, fruit and drinks. There also are bounce houses set up behind the church, and volunteers offering free face painting.

There also are 20 or more vendor booths set up for various organizations to share details about their group and services they offer. The vendors typically bring their own items to give away, as well.

“Spire (Laclede Gas) has given away thumb drives before . . . and Ameren has brought in light bulbs to give away,” said Wolf. “This year we have asked for ear buds because that’s gotten to be a school supply that kids need.”

How You Can Help

The FCBTSF board uses the funds raised through trivia night and other cash donations from businesses, organizations and individuals to purchase the school supplies it gives away to students in need each year.

The group also accepts direct donations of new school supply items.

“Sometimes a group or business will bring in a bunch of items, like backpacks, that they have been collecting through the year whenver they found them on clearance,” said Wolf. “There also are businesses that hold supply drives for us among their employees or customers.”

FCBTSF is able to accept donations year-round because it has a storage unit where items can be kept until the fair is held in July.

This includes donations of gently used clothing (size 5 up to teen/young adult) and age-appropriate books.

Donations also are needed for a silent auction that will be held at the Trivia Night event Feb. 23. Organizers are particularly interested in big ticket items, like a TV or trips to Branson, that will help drive up excitement and bids.

To make a donation of any kind, people can email fcbtsf@charter.net or call First Christian Church in Union at 636-583-5839 and ask for Theresa.

Volunteer Opportunities

In addition to donations of cash and items, the FCBTSF is always in need of more volunteers to help the event run smoothly.

Volunteers are needed on the Thursday evening before the event, from 6 to 8:30 p.m., to help set up; on Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon to work the event, and then on Saturday afternoon, from around noon to 3 p.m. to help clean up.

All ages are welcome to volunteer. Students who are in junior high or younger can volunteer as long as they are with a parent/adult.

To register as a volunteer, send an email to fcbtsf@charter.net or call First Christian Church in Union at 636-583-5839 and ask for Theresa.

‘Thank You to Franklin County’

The Franklin County Back to School Fair has been around for at least 15 years. It was started by the Jefferson-Franklin Community Action Coporation, which then partnered with the church to host the event for a couple of years before the church took it over completely about 10 years ago, said Wolf.

The FCBTSF nonprofit group was established around 2011, she said.

Today along with Mantle and Wolf, the FCBTSF committee includes Ann Benetin, vice president; Amy Morgan, treasurer; Charlie Mantle, Gene Withrow, Charlie Brandhorst, Beth Brandhorst, Amanda Fuhrman, Tina Bauguess, Diane Lettman, Alma Halbert and Becky McDuffie.

“We all just want to say thank you to Franklin County for allowing us to do this for so many years and for their response to it,” said Wolf. “Without our friends, neighbors, businesses, organizations and schools, we couldn’t do this.”

Mantle, who has been involved with the fair for seven years, said she continues to volunteer and put her heart into the effort because she sees the good the event provides.

“I came from a family where we never had everything we wanted, but we had everything we needed,” said Mantle. “Today I see kids out there who just don’t have what they need, and they get teased for it.

“I will keep doing this until I know every child in Franklin County has everything they need the first day of school. That’s my passion,” she said.

Trivia Night

When: Saturday, Feb. 23, 6:30 p.m.

Where: Union High School old gym, off of Main Street

Why: Fundraiser for the annual Franklin County Back to School Fair to provide school supplies for some 1,000 students in need around the area.

Cost: $15 per person. There also will be a silent auction.

Note: No alcohol is allowed. Beverages will be available for purchase, and people can bring in their own snacks.

To register or to donate an item for the silent auction, people can call 314-650-2080 or email fcbtsf@charter.net.