2017-08-31 / Columnists

Babylon News & Muse

School starts next week. Funny, it seems to me that while we hated to see the end of the summer as a child (and as an adult), we did have some excitement at the thought of school opening. In the weeks just prior to the new school year, we would go shopping for new school clothes. Since my family attended St. Joseph’s School, where we wore uniforms, there was not much need for new clothes. Basically our shopping in those years was confined to looking for shoes and socks, as well as sweaters or a fall jacket. However, we did have the thrill of looking for items like pencil cases (much more popular in those days than they may be today)!

The two big items we looked for were lunch boxes and binders. While other girls were selecting sweet feminine themes such as butterflies and ballerinas, I was more interested in Roy Rogers and Hop-A-Long Cassidy. (Today’s children probably have no idea who either of those heroes are!)

I remember vividly the smell of new leather when we bought my navy and while saddle shoes. I also recall a raincoat of red plaid!

While it never occurred to me at the time, today I know that many children don’t have the chance to go back-to-school shopping. Because we wore uniforms at St. Joe’s, we never noticed that Jane or John Doe didn’t have anything new.

These days, with fewer private schools, it’s easier to notice classmates wearing and using last year’s clothes and supplies. A certain percentage of the school children actually skip the first few days of school.

Thirty years ago I was beginning to teach and realized that one student wore the same leather coat, day in and day out. And she wasn’t the cleanest either.

This was my first year teaching and I was very uncertain of myself. Finally, I went to one of the guidance counselors to find out if there something I should do.

I no sooner started to explain the problem than Joan (the counselor) held up her hand and said, “That girl doesn’t have any new clothes. In fact, she doesn’t have any clean clothes, either!”

Startled, I stared at Joan. It had never occurred to me that any child could be that poor.

At the same time, I was helping to form the Pilot Club of Babylon, a local service club for women. At the time there were several clubs for men: Rotary, Lions, Knights of Columbus, etc. None of those worthy organizations allowed women to join their membership at that time.

Pilot Clubs already existed in Patchogue and Sayville, and I was approached by the Sayville Club to form a club in Babylon.

Pilot International had been formed by a group of women in Macon, Georgia in the early part of the 20th century to help the needy. Word spread quickly in the south and numerous clubs sprang up with women who were anxious to help their communities in whatever ways possible.

In 1987, 30 women from the Babylon area opted to get together and form a Pilot Club here. I was elected to be the charter president of the club.

Each Pilot Club looks around the community for needs that are not being met. Having just started to teach, I told the membership about my experience with the student who needed clothes for school, and we decided to start a project called “Start School Right.”

The premise was to find students like the girl in my class that year, and to help them buy school clothes and supplies. The club moved forward enthusiastically with the project and now, 30 years later, it is still the major project of the Pilot Club of Babylon.

The organization has gone to local schools and churches to identify students in need. Originally we found out size requirements and purchased clothes that could be used in and out of school: jeans, tee shirts, socks and shoes. We also filled book bags with just about everything a student needed for school: binders and paper, pens and pencils, crayons and markers, etc.

In order to respect the privacy of the students, the materials were delivered to the school or church that had nominated the students. We made a point of providing supplies for all school-age children in the family.

In addition to the school clothes and supplies, we also provided gloves and hats for each student as the weather became colder. Pilot gives the families gift cards to local supermarkets in time for the winter break, to ensure that the students do not go hungry.

The premise of “Start School Right” is that students who feel better about starting the school year will do better in school. We frequently receive thank you letters from the students and their parents, telling us how much they appreciate the supplies. To date, the Pilot Club of Babylon has provided supplies and food to more than 1,500 local students over the years.

When Pilot started this program, there were no other organizations providing such services. Now there are numerous groups that provide school supplies to needy students. However, to my knowledge, Pilot is still the only organization that gives students school clothes, which is a significant difference.

The program has changed slightly in that Pilot now provides the students with gift cards to area stores for school clothes as well as cards to stores that carry school supplies. This allows the students to make their own choices in both clothing and other supplies.

Pilot has been lucky enough to receive monetary donations from individuals and companies in the area to help us with “Start School Right.” Helping these students costs approximately $120 per child. If you would like to make a donation in any amount, please make your check payable to the Pilot Club of Babylon, and send it to Pilot at P.O. Box 231, Babylon, NY 11702. Please help more students Start School Right! Happy Labor Day!

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