Smiles of Gratitude: School Supply Distribution, August 2022

Students and their families dressed in their best clothes and arrived on foot or clinging together on a moto. They waited patiently, masks in place, to receive their school supplies. But beneath their masks they were smiling. They saw piles of brightly colored backpacks to choose from and stacks of notebooks, pencil pouches and geometry sets. The long list of supplies required by schools would no longer be a barrier to attending school. 

Breaking Records

After a two-year hiatus for Covid-19, students are back in school with face-to-face learning. Nearly 800 Cozumel students recently received a fresh supply of the tools they need to continue their education. It’s been a record-breaking year. The expanded number of students served required a carefully organized effort: connecting with the families, shepherding them through the inscription process, and staffing the distribution of backpacks stocked with the specific supplies needed for each grade level. A total of 51 local and visiting volunteers helped 790 students through the process. Twenty percent of those students have special needs.

“While we may have been able to do this with fewer workers, we chose to include local volunteers—27 of the 51—primarily to involve students and/or parents who benefit from this program,” said Karen, an FOC leader.

A few years ago, growing this program to help 500 students in need was a dream of Byron’s, one of the regular volunteers from Texas. His idea of a dramatic increase in the number of students served was not readily embraced by the other core volunteers.

“My head is still spinning from the 800 number,” Byron said. “But as I recall, the reaction to my proposal of 500 was everywhere from ‘that’s funny,’ to ‘how on earth could we manage that’?”

But FOC did indeed manage 500 plus nearly 300 more.

“It just takes, faith,” Byron said.

Shifting Trends

• The number of students served overall has increased. Numbers jumped from 179 in 2013 to 504 in 2017 to 790 in 2022. 

• Students appear to be staying in school longer. Students were mainly in primary grades in the early years while this year 44% were in grade 7 and above. 167 students are now in high school and university programs.

• Students are interested in higher education, but often have to choose between going to school and working to support their families. FOC provides financial becas (scholarships) to all first semester prepa (high school) students and selected university students. 

• Parents and older youth value the ability to read, but some have trouble seeing. As a result, FOC provided reading glasses to 63 people during this year’s school supply distribution. 

24 Years and Counting

Friends of Cozumel founders have supported education for more than 24 years. We began working with Chrysalis in 1998 and expanded to support NUAFA in 2002. At this time, Friends of Cozumel was formed with goals to encourage education and offer support to families in need. These early partnerships with other established nonprofits helped chart a course for what eventually became FOC. Although NUAFA ended operations and Chrysalis recently merged with Friends of Cozumel, our focus on education, support of families and community, and volunteerism has not changed.

You Make a Difference

Donors provide in-kind contributions of school supplies while others make financial donations that are used to purchase paper products and other items locally. Many volunteers bring small sized donations in backpacks via cruise ships while others come to vacation and assist us in service projects. 

Bob and Linda from Oklahoma have donated school supplies in past years, but this was their first time to come help with the distribution process. 

“We said we ought to go help. Sometimes the Lord prompts us to do that,” said Bob. 

Linda agrees. “We saw the need and it’s been exciting to see the kids pick out the backpacks they want. The looks on their faces—you can tell they’re trying to tell me thank you. I think they really appreciated the help.”

Now Collecting School Supplies  

This year’s distribution is complete, but work has already begun to collect enough school supplies for next year. A list of needed supplies can be found here, but these items are especially needed:

Large (19”) backpacks for women

Scientific calculators

Spanish only dictionaries for elementary students

Spanish/English dictionaries for upper level students

Black dry erase markers

Yellow highlighters

Special Thanks to Supporters

Whether it was a handshake, or thanks spoken in Spanish or English, the smiles from students and their family members said it all. We’d like to pass their appreciation on to you. 

“It’s our wonderful donors throughout the year make this project possible,” said Karen.

Muchisimas gracias from 790 students, their parents and from all of the volunteers who appreciate your support.

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