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Connellsville-Scottdale Salvation Army aids kids with Back-to-School program

| Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Paul Paterra | The Independent-Observer
Chris Williams (left) of the Scottdale Kiwanis, helps Heather Wheeler of Everson and her son Alfred during the Salvation Army's Back-to-School shopping program held recently at Kmart in Mt. Pleasant.

A recent evening found many area kids shopping with parents at the Kmart in East Huntingdon for much-needed clothes and supplies as another school year draws near.

Nothing strange about that, but this was a bit of a different shopping trip. The kids were shopping with finances provided by the Connellsville-Scottdale Salvation Army's Back-to-School program. Participants are chosen based on need.

“We're helping these families with school clothing,” said Doris Rizza, a Salvation Army volunteer. “We have $5,000 allotted for the group. It's income related. We sent letters out to the schools, to the guidance counselors to the nurses to churches to anyone who may know needy children.”

Each child was allotted about $75 with which to shop and had a list of items from which purchases could be made.

“We happened to have a little bit of money left at the end of the season so we wanted to try to help the families,” explained Mary McKnight, director of the Connellsville-Scottdale Salvation Army. “All of these people came by referral.”

Items that were allowed to be purchased included: slacks or jeans, dresses or skirts, shirts, blouses, T-shirts, tops, underwear, socks, shoes, back-packs, book bags, duffel bags and school supplies. Clothing had to be deemed appropriate for school.

More than 60 kids came to the Kmart for the shopping spree, McKnight said..

“We spent $20 shy of $5,000 helping Scottdale and Connellsville area children,” McKnight said. “I'm thrilled. I can't wait for next year. Some were even hugging their underwear.”

McKnight said she saw a lot of joy from those who were shopping. One that stood out was a 15-year-old boy accompanied by his aunt, who recently gained custody of the teen.

“She was so happy, she told me he never had new clothes bought for him before,” McKnight said. “He just enjoyed himself. He loved the new clothes he bought for himself.”

Marilyn Albright, senior field representative at The Salvation Army Western Pennsylvania Division, was on hand for the event that took place Aug. 5. She recalled that feeling of receiving new clothes just before the school year started from her younger days.

“You get that feeling that you want to go to school because you want to see all the other kids' stuff,” Albright remembered fondly. “It's just an encouraging thing to have kids want to go to school, You want to go to school to show off you new clothes. It makes them look forward to going to school.”

Albright said the back-to-school program has been offered by the Salvation Army for a number of years and has found it to work very well with the cooperation from Kmart.

Money is raised through local Salvation Army fundraisers, such as the traditional kettle drive.

The program was available for any student from the age of 5 to those in high school.

“If they're going to school this year, they're eligible,” Rizza said, adding that Kmart offered a deal to the shoppers. “Everything they buy on regular price, they're going to get on sale price.”

If those who shopped needed a helping hand while perusing the store, it was available from members of the Scottdale Kiwanis.

The Kiwanis was involved through the efforts of Barry Brooks, who's active with the Salvation Army.

Heather Wheeler of Everson utilized the help of Kiwanis member Chris Williams while shopping for her son Alfred, 9, who will be entering third grade at Southmoreland Elementary School.

“She's doing a wonderful job,” Wheeler said of Williams. “I think (the program is) great. This helps me out. (We got) things he needed, socks, shirts and definitely shoes.”

Paul Paterra is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-887-6101 or