Sunday, 08 July 2012 by Colleen Cornelsion
Nearly every day since April 1, Jeanette Kelley and about 20 fellow Project Apple Tree volunteers have been working every morning in preparation for distribution day on Aug. 20.
Kelley began the program 12 years ago after retiring from 23 years in the education field. She began working with Helping Hands, where she noticed a great need within the community.
She began Project Apple Tree in an attempt to help students, who qualify through Helping Hands criteria, attain necessary school supplies.
"It's more than just getting school supplies, though. We want to set them up to have a successful school year," Kelley said.
Clients also receive a backpack, a complete outfit, a hygiene kit and an opportunity for a free haircut. The Bell County Health Department and Medical Alliance also provide immunizations for the children.
This year, Kelley is expecting to help more than 1,600 preschool through high school students through Project Apple Tree, exceeding last year's number.
Kelley's program has seen exponential growth throughout the years as her first year, about 400 students received assistance. They already have 600 signed up at Helping Hands, currently.
Project Apple Tree is not a national but a local program and is funded by the community.
"It's a grassroots effort. About 24-28 area churches are involved," Kelley said.
Churches can begin to pick up the tags for the children in need the second week in July. On distribution day alone, the efforts of more than 200 volunteers are needed. Altogether, Kelley estimates that Project Apple Tree is the combined effort of about 3,000 volunteers, rather through resources, time, or monetary donations.
Project Apple Tree and its volunteers are based out of the Baptist Student Ministry building, located at the corner of 4th Street and Pearl Street. The efforts are truly widespread.
"We always have more children register than churches sponsor, so we depend on groups, clubs, organizations, and individuals to sponsor children as well," Kelley said.
Those wishing to make a donation can do so through Helping Hands. One should make checks payable to Helping Hands with Apple Tree in the memo. The growing program is always looking for further community assistance.
"My big need right now is for churches, big or small, who have never been involved before, to get involved," Kelley said.
She also needs professional hair stylists to come out on Aug. 20, and volunteer some time using their skills.
"The whole is to see that every child starts school looking their very best with a good self-esteem," Kelley said.
If you are interested in joining the program or volunteering your time, contact Jeanette Kelley at (254) 939-1162.