Parents with children in tow from throughout the South County — Cottonwood, Anderson, Happy Valley, South Redding and even Shingletown — arrived before 7 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 4, outside the Wal-Mart SuperCenter in Anderson.
They were there for a donor-paid shopping excursion that provided each eligible child with $100 worth of bright, trendy clothing for back-to-school wear through the Lookin’ Cool for School program, a community outreach of the Anderson-Cottonwood Christian Assistance food bank.
“This year, we are only able to help 97 of the 358 applicants we had for this program,” explained coordinator Elaine Delperdang of Redding, formerly a resident of Happy Valley.
Along with recipients of the $100 gift card shopping trip were at least 40 volunteers, most wearing bright red shirts so they could easily be spotted by store employees eager to assist in any way possible.
One volunteer was Denise Evans, an eighth-grade mathematics teacher at Anderson Middle School who also volunteered to shepherd young shoppers through the store aisles last year as well.
“When the kids from this program come to school, they are more confident and relaxed. They are on an even level with everyone else. They have a feeling that they can succeed because they have new shoes and fresh clothes. That allows them to focus on learning instead of worrying about the holes in their worn-out shoes or the smell of the clothes that they have had to wear for the last three days straight,” Evans said.
That attitude of being able to compete on the same level “really gets the ball rolling and I see the benefits throughout the year,” the teacher added.
Within minutes of the 7 a.m. start, Evans was efficiently paired with a set of twin girls, two of four children belonging to single mom Deanna Woods of Cottonwood.
Woods was participating in the assistance program for her second year as well and considers it a godsend.
“It means a lot to me and to my kids,” said Woods, who agreed to allow the use of her name in this story. “I really appreciate the help. It gets my family mostly ready for the school year. Last year they were a lot happier about starting school once we did the shopping.”
In addition to her 7-year-old twins, who were celebrating their birthday Saturday, Woods also has an 8-year-old daughter going into second grade and a son entering eighth grade.
All four children will attend North Cottonwood Elementary School, she said.
After shopping with the twins for nearly 40 minutes, Kayla had selected a pair of star-studded black tennis shoes and 11 items for her wardrobe while Mikiah returned a pair of $14 Hello Kitty pink-and-purple tennis shoes in order to buy 17 clothing items.
When the cash register totals for each girl’s selections went slightly over the $100 gift card allowance, Evans pulled out her own debit card to make up the difference.
“They come in with a long list of wants. My job as a volunteer is to help them get the best value for their money. They end up with a lot of everything, from socks and shoes to pants, shirts and dresses,” Evans said.
“I try to get them as close to $100 as I can, but if they go a bit over, I carry my Versateller card. The parents really are grateful for all that we do for them,” she added.
When the program started in 2009, a total of 67 children were helped. Another 78 children received the shopping trip in 2010, and by 2011, the program was able to assist 106 students, Delperdang said.
The number of children helped each year depends entirely on the generosity and number of sponsors. This year, those sponsors included Measured Progress, Wal-Mart, Blue Shield, Anderson Rotary Club, Sierra Pacific Industries, Anderson Kiwanis and many private citizens and churches.
To make a tax-deductible donation, checks should be made payable to South County Transformation and mailed to that organization at P.O. Box 1374, Anderson, CA 96007. On the memo line of the check, the donor should designate “Lookin’ Cool for School.”