Non-profit gives away school supplies to every student in Everglades Elementary

OKEECHOBEE — Eleven years ago Candi Nelson first noticed there were many students in Okeechobee who, through no fault of their own, didn’t have access to the school supplies they needed to start the new school year.

In July of 2007 Mrs. Nelson gathered a few volunteers and started collecting school supplies and backpacks. She partnered with her local place of worship, The Church of God of Prophecy, and gave out 165 backpacks filled with school supplies to students in Okeechobee.

Everglades kindergärtner Emily Garza (left) receives toothbrush kit donated by Everglades Pediatric Dentistry from Kidz First, Inc. volunteer Colleen Thomas (right). Photo taken by Richard Marion/Okeechobee News.

Each year the program grew, giving away school supplies to more and more students. By the fourth year Mrs. Nelson had to rent the Okeechobee Agri-Civic Center in order to have enough space to give out 3,000 backpacks full of school supplies.

“For the first few years we held it as a kind of community event,” Mrs. Nelson explained. “My goal was to get the supplies into the hands of the students who need it. We started partnering with Seminole Elementary a few years ago. We would go in at open house and would have our own room. The students would go meet their teachers and then they would come by our room and pick up their backpack already filled with supplies.”

That partnership with Seminole Elementary carried on for eight years, with every student in the school receiving a backpack of school supplies.

Eventually, as the program grew, Mrs. Nelson recognized it was time for the program to become a full-fledged non-profit organization, which would allow her to apply for grants to bring in additional revenue to fund the program.

Everglades kindergärtner Jael Williams (left) and her brothers first graders Jeremiah (center) and Josiah (right) were excited about their new backpacks, socks and toothbrush kits. Special to the Okeechobee News.

The non-profit was given the name “Kidz First, Inc.” and in 2018 they partnered with Everglades Elementary for the first time. Each student at Everglades was given a new backpack, school supplies, new socks, and a toothbrush kit.

“It’s been an amazing experience,” said Mrs. Nelson. “We have a couple private donors that help us each year and we do fundraising to help pay for things. Just to do Everglades Elementary was about a $10,000 to $12,000 event. Dr. Melissa Kindell at Everglades Pediatric Dentistry has been a huge partner as well. I have to give her a big thank you.”

Kidz First Inc. is expanding to other cities in south Florida as well. In 2018 Kidz First gave away 500 backpacks in Moore Haven as well as 500 in Lake Placid.

“The money we raise in Lake Placid stays in Lake Placid, and the money we raise in Okeechobee stays in Okeechobee,” Mrs. Nelson said. “My record keeping is separate in every city, so I assure the donors when I talk to them that their money will stay local in their town.”

If you’d like to reach out to Kidz First, Inc. to offer support for the next school year, you can visit their website at www.kidzfirstinc.com or email Candi Nelson at candi@kidzfirstinc.com.

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