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Nonprofit helps struggling families with school supplies

Seventeen years ago, Manos de Cristo, a nonprofit that works to help people struggling with poverty, started its back-to-school program in its own office space and gave out bags full of new school supplies to 20 children in need.

But when the group puts on its annual event this week beginning Monday, it expects to serve 100 times the number of children as its first outing.

“We now provide 2,000 children with not only school supplies, but also two changes of clothes and everything you need to have self-confidence going back to school,” said Julie Ballesteros, the group’s executive director.

From Monday to Friday this week, the group plans to hand out back-to-school packages to at least 100 children per day at the former site of Allan Elementary School at 4900 Gonzales Street in East Austin. From Monday to Thursday, the group will hand out packages from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. On Friday it will hand out packages from 8 to 10:30 a.m.

The program will serve children enrolled in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. Parents must bring a form of identification.

Ballesteros said parents often start lining up for the program well before the group starts handing out packages.

“People love this program,” Ballesteros said. “The parents are very grateful and for the children it’s a unique experience. Most children in need don’t have an opportunity to go shopping for new things.”

At the back-to-school program, children will be able to pick out a new backpack, clothes and school supplies from a variety of items that Manos de Cristo has bought in lump sum. Through some negotiations with suppliers, the nonprofit has been able to provide a package for each child for $40.

Ballesteros said that providing the back-to-school items helps the parents’ wallets and has made the program very popular.

“I’ve tried myself to see what could I do with $40. I’d probably only be able to buy the backpack,” she said. “And if you have more than one child, that cost is doubled and tripled.”

Another reason the program has grown in popularity, she said, is that the volunteers for the event are so dedicated. Every year, the program gets about 400 volunteers who start calling the nonprofit even before it announces when it will need help distributing the items.

“We don’t even need to call them,” Ballesteros said.

Even though the program is all set to begin handing out packages Monday, Ballesteros said the group can always have more help.

“For donors, we’re still accepting donations,” she said. “We’re grateful for any donations, but it only takes 40 dollars to fund one child.”

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