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Manos de Cristo provides school supplies for needy children

Back-to-school season is an exciting time for many students. For some low-income families, it’s also a time of financial burden and stress.

Manos de Cristo’s back-to-school program eases that stress for about 2,000 poor families. The Austin-based 501(c)(3) charity will be giving away supplies to low-income pre-kindergarten to fifth-grade students from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 18 to 20 at Allan Elementary School, 4900 Gonzales St. in East Austin, while supplies last.

The average cost of school supplies for elementary school students is more than $650, according to Manos de Cristo. American Express’ Spending and Saving Tracker reveals that cost can be as high as $1,239, an amount many low-income families can’t afford.

For Cetura Guevara, an unemployed mother of five children, the program is a godsend.

“They give school supplies and even clothing for the uniforms my children need,” said Guevara.

Manos de Cristo, founded in 1988, began this school program about 20 years ago. In Austin, 12 percent of families live in poverty, according to city data.

Guevara has come to the event for three years. “It’s a great help to people like me who need to save money,” she said. “The volunteers are always so nice and entertain the children while we wait.”

Families begin to line up at as early as 3 a.m., a reflection of how much they need these supplies, although organizers discourage bringing children with them so early. Volunteers will help process about 400 children a day, and participants must bring a valid ID and have their child present with them.

“While most children get excited about returning to school, there’s always children who dread it because they don’t feel prepared,” said Julie Ballesteros, executive director of Manos de Cristo. “We want to ensure that all children are eager to return to school.”

Manos de Cristo has focused its efforts on building a better life for children, families and individuals living in poverty. In addition to their school program, the organization also offers help with dental care, educational resources, food and clothing.

“Getting a child ready for school often becomes a financial burden on families who struggle to make ends meet,” said Ballesteros. “Manos (de Cristo) is here to help.”

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