Families are preparing to send their kids back to school next month, and that means purchasing a bookbag full of school supplies.

But for some area residents, those supplies can be a financial hardship.

"I hope it doesn't come down to either them buying school supplies or paying their electric bills," said Emily Furney, director of the ABC School Supply program.

That's why the United Way of Norman conducts its annual school supply program, which provides free school supplies for students in Norman and surrounding communities. Families who fulfill financial requirements can come to Crosspointe Church this week to request school supplies through the program.

"We'll do everything we can to find the resources to help as many families as possible," Furney said.

Because of the recession, Furney said she expects even more people to apply for the program this year, as many as 1,000 students. Last year the program served more than 845 students, a 28 percent increase from 2007.

But the ABC School Supply Program may have to turn away families this year, something it never did in the past.

Funding is down this year about $7,000 from last year's cost of $24,000.

In previous years, Furney said United Way was able to serve everyone that requested assistance and qualified under the financial need requirements. If more people requested service than they had money for, they would go ahead and serve them and make up the rest of the money later, she said. Because of the large shortfall this year, Furney said the United Way won't be doing that. Once the money is gone, the program will close up shop.

"This year we really only are going to be able to spend what we have in our budget," Furney said.

The United Way received grants from OEC's Operation Round Up, the Norman Community Foundation and a Community Development Block Grant from the City of Norman. It also received donations from individuals and businesses.

"Even though we are down (in our funding), we're grateful that whatever money we have we're gonna help as many people as we can," Furney said. "We couldn't do anything without the community and our community partners."

One local business that's helped out with the school supply program every year is Copelin's Office Center.

Owner Ed Copelin said he hopes there will be enough support for the school supply program to help everyone that needs it this year.

"It's a good cause and hopefully there'll be support for it to hopefully continue to meet the needs here in the community," he said.

Copelin's has given the program discounts on its products for school supplies. Employees at Copelin's also will put together the bags for each student, which are personalized based on what the child's teacher requests.

Copelin said he just wants to help the ABC School Supply program.

"It serves a particular need in the community and it is a growing need," he said.

The intake process for the program is at CrossPointe Church, 2601 24th Ave. SE, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday. The ABC School Supply program operates on a first come, first served basis and will be shut down once funds are depleted.

Pre-K through 12th grade students in Norman, Noble, Little Axe, Lexington and Robin Hill are eligible to apply for the ABC School Supply Program. However, families must meet specific income guidelines to qualify.

Families must bring all of the following information to the intake process in order for their application to be processed:

· Current proof of income, including documentation of all TANF, DHS and SSI funding, payroll, child support and/or any other sources of income

· Current proof of residence

· Social security cards for all family members

· Current drivers license or photo ID card

If you want to help by contributing to the ABC School Supply program, call the United Way of Norman at 364-3800 or send a check Attn: ABC School Supply Program, c/o United Way of Norman, 550 24th Ave. NW Suite D, Norman, OK 73069.

Julianna Parker Jones 366-3541 jparker@normantranscript.com

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