The Gresham-Barlow Education Foundation needs donations to meet need of low-income students

Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Karen Johnston, co-owner of All About Automotive and Gresham-Barlow Education Foundation volunteer, launched a district-wide school supply drive to ease financial burden for low income students.

With nerves already sky high for the start of the school year, imagine showing up on your first day without paper to write on, a pencil to write with or a backpack slung over your shoulder. 

Unfortunately, this is the reality many students face in the Gresham-Barlow School District. 

This is why a year ago, when one middle school counselor asked for a $300 donation for supplies, Karen Johnston, co-owner of All About Automotive and volunteer for the Gresham-Barlow Education Foundation, questioned why the district didn’t have a supply warehouse. Or any supply drives, for that matter.

“A lot of times schools have been fending for themselves,” Johnston said. “Basically there’s a huge need, and I believe that for students to get a good education within our school district, they need the supplies.”

As a result, the foundation, a nonprofit organization that partners with businesses to provide the district with financial back-up support, launched its second annual school supply drive to help bridge the gap. West Gresham Grade School became the home of a district storeroom where supplies are collected and distributed at the request of school counselors.

Relieving parents from having to cough up hundreds of dollars in school supplies, the foundation collected $10,000 in supplies last year and an additional $2,000 in cash donations. 

Victoria Alley, foundation director, said it is the only foundation designated to support all 18 schools in the district. “There has always been a parent group that comes together to fill the gap,” she said.

But Johnston said they can’t do it without community support. 

“There are kids who show up without proper clothes and shoes, with not even a piece of paper or a binder to their name,” she said. 

And binders are just the start of it. Schools such as West Gresham Grade School and Damascus Middle School post lists requiring anywhere from 14 to 20 items. Students are required to bring everything from book covers and tissues to dry erase markers and stainless steel pencil sharpeners. 

“I think there are parents who have a hard with this,” Johnston said. “I was a single parent for five years, and school shopping just about killed me.” 

“School supplies are expensive,” Alley agreed. “Binders aren’t cheap.”

And it seems like every year school supply prices climb higher. This was the observation of single mom Yiana Morales as she shopped with her 11-year-old daughter at a local Fred Meyer. Morales’s daughter will attend Gordon Russell Middle School in the fall, and school supply shopping is likely to break the bank. 

“I remember in 1992 school supplies were cheaper,” Morales said. But while glancing at the pile of glue sticks, markers, notebooks and an $11 binder in her cart, she said she expected to spend at least $50.

“I would say on average your grade school kids can cost $80 to $100 for school supplies,” Johnston said. However, she added, once a child reaches middle school, the supply list becomes more complicated. Required items, such as graphing calculators, can easily double a school supply budget.

Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK  - Backpacks, being one of the most expensive school supply items, are at the top of the foundations list.

Binders are one of the top items the foundation needs most, especially since middle schools and high schools put an emphasis on organization, Johnston said. 

Backpacks, spiral notebooks, thumb drives, paper and calculators also are sorely needed.

Johnston said students who come to school without the items they need may feel discouraged and have lower self-esteem. “They’ll ask themselves, why bother?” 

Which is why “It’s crucial for them to have what they need,” she said, “so that it doesn’t hold them back.”

Johnston said that because counselors work so closely with the students throughout their education, they understand their needs on an individual level. Counselors contact the foundation and provide information on the needs of individual students. The foundation then sends supplies to the school.

“Last year, over 300 homeless students received supplies from the school district thanks to the generous donations of community members,” said Athena Vadnais, director of communications for the district. “We were also able to provide school supplies to 116 low income students.”

Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK  - Donation drop bins are located at several local businesses.

However, despite starting a month earlier this year, “we’re off to a slow start,” Johnston said.

At this time last year, Johnston was receiving regular calls to come pick up overflowing donation bins. But as of now, “I haven’t picked up a single bin,” she said.

The foundation hopes to collect $10,000 worth of supplies.

Donations can be taken to drop bins at local business including All About Automotive, Gresham Family Chiropractic, Gresham Ford, US Bank on Powell and UPS Brown Store. Cash donations can be made payable to the Gresham-Barlow Education Foundation, P.O. Box 3406, Gresham, 97030.

For more information, call the foundation at 503-766-0008 or Karen Johnston at 503-465-2926.


What: Gresham-Barlow Education Foundation school supply drive

Why: To enable the district to stock a supply warehouse for students in need.

When: Through Aug. 31


All About Automotive, 139 N.W. Second St., Gresham. 

Gresham Family Chiropractic, 575 N.E. Second St., Gresham.

Gresham Ford, 1991 E. Powell Blvd. 

US Bank, 300 E. Powell Blvd., Gresham 

UPS Brown Store, 2870 N.E. Hogan Road, Suite E, Gresham.

Key Bank branches at 25117 S.E. Stark St., Troutdale; and 390 W. Burnside Road, Gresham

Riverview Bank, 225 N.E. Burnside Road, Gresham.

Cascade Athletic locations, 19201 S.E. Division St., and 2456 E. Powell Blvd., Gresham. 

Origins Coffee, Tea and Desserts, 600 N.W. Eastman Parkway, Gresham.

Needed supplies


Notebook paper (wide and college ruled)


Pens and pencils

Pencil sharpeners

Glue sticks

Composition Writer Notebooks

Thumb drives


Colored markers

Colored pencils


Facial tissues

Disinfectant wipes

Hand sanitizer

Spiral notebooks (wide and college ruled)

Contract Publishing

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