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Bank helps kids get ready for school

The family trip to the store at the start of the school year is a familiar ritual to most students, who mix the scents of fresh paper, new markers and sharpened pencils as they dump just-purchased school supplies into backpacks for the first trip to class.

But the school supplies excursion is an expense not all families can afford, forcing some to forego the fresh paper and markers for substitutes that fail to meet students’ needs.

“There is an unbelievably high number of children who start school without basic supplies,” said Brian Edwards, a senior vice president at Astoria Federal Savings. “Many of these needy children going to school use previously used notebooks or they just have to suffer.”

Recognizing a problem that receives little attention in a school system beleaguered by other problems, Astoria Federal began collecting school supplies two years ago, delivering them to schools where students needed the assistance.

“From a corporate perspective, we look to support the communities that we’re in with our branches in a way that we can touch as many people as possible,” Edwards said.

The Kids Tools for School program in its third year will now include the purchase of $10,000 worth of supplies by the bank itself in addition to the solicitation of donations from bank customers, which last year filled 110 large cartons with pens, pencils, notebooks, loose-leaf paper and rulers.

Astoria Federal Savings, the fifth largest savings bank in the United States, was founded in Astoria more 100 years ago and has grown to serve 700,000 customers in five counties.

All people are encouraged to donate supplies at branches of the bank — including 17 in Queens and 69 others in Brooklyn and Long Island. The materials will be distributed to public and parochial schools once the collection period ends Sept. 15.

“It just provides them with the resources that they need to receive a quality value-centered education, the real basics,” said Jean O’Shea, director of the Futures in Education program for the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens, which accepts supplies from the Astoria Federal program.

In Catholic schools that serve underprivileged areas, parents who scrape resources together to afford the school often have little left to spend on supplies.

“These parents are struggling so much to pay their tuition,” O’Shea said. “These resources are a great benefit to these schools and families.”

Last year five Queens Catholic schools received gifts of supplies: Blessed Sacrament in Jackson Heights, St. Gabriel in East Elmhurst, Queen of Angels in Sunnyside, St. Leo’s in Corona, St. Mary’s Star of the Sea in Far Rockaway, and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in South Ozone Park.

The Board of Education will also receive materials to distribute to public schools in Queens and Brooklyn.

The program has spawned altruism from students who come from more privileged families, like the 8- and 12-year-old children of one Astoria Federal customer who made their own personal sacrifice for the program last year.

“They gave up their allowance for two weeks and bought some school supplies for other kids who didn’t have them,” Edwards said.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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