Back-to-school fairs equip St. Louis area students with what they need for the classroom

As any seasoned parent can attest, back-to-school time can be hectic.

The checklist can seem never-ending with various supply lists to satisfy, required health records to turn in and, not least, getting their kids excited to get back in the classroom.

For the parents of the 3,300 students in the Normandy Schools Collaborative, it’s all taken care of.

The Normandy Schools Collaborative (formerly known as the Normandy School District) and the nonprofit Beyond Housing organization on Saturday hosted their annual Beyond the Backpack back-to-school event at Normandy High School.

The free event is designed to get kids ready for school and provide them and their families the resources needed to have a successful school year.

More than 3,000 backpacks were given away, each of them stuffed with grade-specific school supplies such as crayons, tissue paper, rulers and other items.

Free haircuts, health screenings and immunizations were also available, as well as food and information on various community resources such as sports teams, the St. Louis County Library, the Magic House, the Boy Scouts, the St. Louis Chess Club and others.

“Too often the challenge is not when you get to school, but the stuff that is happening outside the four walls of the school that really get in the way,” said Chris Krehmeyer, Beyond Housing’s president and CEO.

“We see this as a springboard for the beginning of the school year.”

After Saturday’s event, he said, the organization will have 13 staff members embedded in Normandy schools to interact with families and students.

“A lot of times, we hear about what they need, such as utility or rent assistance or food for the house,” he said. “So we’re here to provide the parents with things that help get their kids coming to school ready to learn.”

With mid-90-degree temperatures and sunny skies, the event was well-attended, with kids running around to learn about various organizations or to hop around in a bounce house.

Parents were busy meeting with soon-to-be teachers and schools staff at their children’s respective school.

Even grandparents were getting in on the action.

Doris Harris, of Pagedale, was at the event with her 9-year-old granddaughter, Allison Rainy, who will attend Lucas Crossing Elementary when school begins on Monday. Harris said she was helping her daughter, who was with Allison’s two older sisters getting their hair done.

“It’s just a way for me to help out and then (her daughter) can take the other two to get their stuff,” she said. “But it’s nice to come and get these backpacks with all the supplies you need. Saves on time and money.”

The event, said Beyond Housing COO Deb Dombar, costs about $40,000 to put on. It’s one of several initiatives the organization does to help that area.

“Our mission is to ask, align and act,” she said. “So we ask the community what we need, align ourselves with those needs and then act on them.”

About a decade ago, the organization helped bring in a Save-A-Lot grocery store after area residents said the community was in the middle of a food desert.

A movie theater, community bank and coffee shop have also been added because of work done by Beyond Housing. The organization also has a housing services unit that helps families buy or repair homes.

“It’s all about placemaking and good communities start with good schools, which bring in good families and make better neighborhoods,” Krehmeyer said.

Other school districts in the region, such as Hazelwood and Ferguson-Florissant, have held such fairs previously. Others around the region will soon host similar events of varied sizes.

The St. Louis Public Schools on Aug. 11 will host its annual back-to-school festival in partnership with the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis at America’s Center downtown.

Sales tax holiday drives business

Those who showed up at Normandy High School on Saturday were among the tens of thousands of parents and children getting ready for a new school year.

Some others took advantage of Missouri’s annual sales tax holiday that began Friday and runs through the weekend.

The event coincides with back-to-school season and exempts purchases of clothing, school supplies, computers and other items from the state’s 4.225 percent sales tax.

Local municipalities and other taxing districts could also choose to participate and exempt their sales taxes. For businesses in some of the cities that participated, it was a boon for business.

Retailers such as Kohl’s, Best Buy and Target have all been running sales and marketing toward the busy shopping season.

Several Best Buy stores in the area increased staff ahead of the weekend to meet demand.

“We know that many customers like to shop during the back-to-school season and sales tax holiday, so we plan our staffing accordingly,” said Best Buy spokesman Matthew Smith.

Jordan Lee, the computer lead at Best Buy’s Chesterfield Valley location said back-to-school season is among the store’s busiest shopping periods.

To add incentive for customers, Best Buy was running promotions on certain computers and tablets in which students could get up to $150 off on top of other markdowns and the sales tax holiday.

“There is a huge drive for everything we have here — computers, tablets, speakers and even things like purses,” he said. “These student deals are a huge drive for us.”