ELKTON, Md. — The summer checklist for some high school students might look something like this: roll out of bed around 11, check Facebook, go to work, hit the pool, catch a movie.
For most, it does not include raising money for backpacks and school supplies for more than 500 children, unless you are part of the Kemp family of Immaculate Conception Parish in Elkton, Md. Beginning with Erica 10 years ago, then Laura Jeanne, Caroline and now Bryson, the drive now provides new school supplies to more than 500 children each year.
“We consider this serving the Lord,” said their mother, Mary.
With Bryson, a 16-year-old senior at Tome School in North East, heading off to college next year, this is the last year the Kemps will run the program. Kate Reinhold, who is Mary Kemp’s sister, and her two high school-age children are on board for next year, but they will need help.
“We’re hoping to find another family to take it over,” Bryson said in late July as families stopped by to pick up backpacks.
The School Supply Shelf started when Mary Kemp and her children brought food to the Immaculate Conception outreach in 2001 and, Mary said, Erica thought if people couldn’t afford food, there was no way they could afford school supplies.
“I remember her saying that getting brand new school supplies was the only thing she looked forward to about returning to school,” Mary said.
So the next summer, Erica, now 23 and in law school at the University of Notre Dame, solicited funds from Cecil County businesses, and a tradition was born.
That first summer, 35 children received supplies. Backpacks were added later. It’s a nondenominational program, although the Immaculate Conception outreach office is the distribution point.
After three years at the helm, Erica passed the torch to Laura Jeanne, and two years later Caroline took over. She was in charge for two years before handing the reins to Bryson, who just finished his third year at the helm.
The Kemps have never advertised the School Supply Shelf; there has been no need. As word spread through Cecil County, the number of families who await its arrival has grown tremendously. This past July 27, the first day supplies were available, the family gave out 103 backpacks, its biggest first day ever, for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.
“We always run out of supplies before we run out of people,” Mary Kemp said.
Supplies are organized based on lists provided by the Cecil County Public Schools. Until this year, the Kemps had to secure lists from each school in the county, but now there’s just one. Nearly all the supplies go to public school students, but there have been nonpublic school students in the past. The backpacks are gender-specific, said Laura Jeanne, 21, a nurse at Christiana Care.
The program has been an eye-opener for the Kemp children, Mary said, exposing them to the poverty that exists in their own community. “I remember one lady saying, ‘We live in our car.’”
Bryson said no one is asked to prove they are in need when they show up for supplies. “We’re not in their shoes,” he said. “We don’t know what they’re going through.” He has learned a lot about people over the past few years, both those who receive the goods and those who donate and make the School Supply Shelf possible.
Caroline, 20, a student at Villanova University on Philadelphia’s Main Line, said what struck her from the time she spent running the School Supply Shelf was the generosity of the local business community, as well as that of parishioners at Immaculate Conception and others in Cecil County.
“I remember my first year getting a check from someone I didn’t send a letter to,” she said.
The program is very important to helping the beneficiaries escape a life in need, Laura Jeanne said. The backpacks are a small part of helping the students succeed. “It’s hard to start school when you’re already behind.”