The Tools for School project kicked off July 5 with good news for children.

Created in 1998 by Jennifer Thornhill, the purpose of this project is to make sure that pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students in Ellis County are well prepared with school supplies on their first day of school.

“When children show up for the first day of school without supplies, they either go without or individual teachers must compensate,” Thornhill said. “I have received letter after letter from teachers stressing the importance of the project because they have seen firsthand in their classrooms the problems that arise when a child does not have his or her own supplies.

“The bottom line is that school supplies are expensive, but after all, every child deserves an equal opportunity to learn,” she said.

Thornhill’s determination to help children stems from having volunteered at the Boys and Girls Club of Waxahachie when she was a freshman at Waxahachie High School.

“Many of those children did not have adequate school supplies and not only was their school work suffering, but also their self-esteem,” Thornhill said. “With that in mind, I set out to see that these children were able to begin the school year with the supplies they needed. I raised a few hundred dollars that first year and bought supplies for around 80 children.”

Thornhill is supported in her efforts by several of her friends and co-volunteers.

“Jennifer recognized a great need for these children and acted upon it,” said volunteer Melissa Ballard. “Her friend, Caroline Ford, saw a need to help her so she decided to volunteer, too. We couldn’t do any of this without such a wonderful staff.”

“These people are like the wind beneath my wings,” said Capt. Mario Maldonado of the Salvation Army. “My job is to identify the need, but these people make it happen.”

Working in conjunction with employees from Citizens National Bank of Texas and the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club, this will be the 10th year this project has operated. It has been nationally recognized and has set a standard that other Salvation Army/Boys and Girls Clubs have begun to follow.

This year’s goal is to help 500 applicants and, at $40 a child, Thornhill hopes to raise at least $20,000. Any gifts donated goes directly toward the school supplies.

“Our goal is to support 500 children but we could support 1,000 if we had the funds,” said Janet Thornhill, Jennifer’s mother. “There is a strong need for the children throughout Ellis County and a $40 gift card can be of some help to purchase some of the school supplies.

“We usually have a pretty good turnout each year,” she said. “We’re hoping to raise $20,000 to help 500 children and the more people give, the more children we can help. The amount of children we can help depends on the amount of money we raise.”

Some of the supplies that are purchased with the help of the gift cards include backpacks, notebook paper, pencils and pens.

Funds are raised through the generous donations of individuals, local businesses, organizations and sponsorships.

Citizens National Bank of Texas has donated $1,000, the Rotary Club has donated $500, First United Methodist Church Covenant Class has donated $300 and Jennifer’s 8-year-old niece, Loeva Cagle, has personally raised nearly $400.

“I do it because I think it would make kids feel left out if he or she didn’t have school supplies on their first day of school,” Cagle said. “It makes me feel proud to be able to help.”

“I think it’s kind of neat how Loeva wants to follow in her aunt’s footsteps and volunteer at such an early age,” Ballard said.

Maldonado said he is extremely proud to be a part of this project.

“This is a very successful project and we really want it to continue,” Maldonado said. “We’re definitely recognizing the need for children in Ellis County.”

Applications are now available at the Salvation Army and all applicants must go through a screening process to determine eligibility. The deadline to apply is Aug. 1, and participation is limited on a needs basis. The school supply distribution is from 3-6 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 23. A photo ID and proof of school enrollment are needed when supplies are picked up.

For more information, contact Caroline Ford at (972) 351-5197, Melissa Ballard at (972) 351-5122 or Janet Thornhill at (214) 732-5138.

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