Today marks the final day of this year's Pine Bluff Commercial's Christmas Card Fund, and we cannot say how grateful we are to everyone who has donated to help area school kids in need.

Although the deadline is today if you want your name to appear in our printed Christmas Card, which will appear in the Sunday, Dec. 24, edition, we will, of course, accept donations beyond today and up until the new year.

The newspaper has sponsored the annual fund for the past 30 years. Since 1987, the effort has raised more than $300,000 for children.

The newspaper collects the money and distributes it among the Dollarway, Pine Bluff, Watson Chapel and White Hall school districts based on student enrollment. No money is kept for administrative reasons.

A total of $6,707 had been given this year through Friday afternoon.

Donations should be made to the Christmas Card Fund, care of the Pine Bluff Commercial, P.O. Box 6469, Pine Bluff, AR, 71611. Donations may also be hand-delivered to The Commercial at 300 S. Beech St. between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays.

HOW THE FUND BENEFITS KIDS

Jefferson County educators have shared stories of children living in extreme poverty, lacking food, plumbing, heat and air conditioning — and even one child living in a tent. As a result, these children come to school suffering and are at a distinct disadvantage, educators said. The fund helps to provide basic necessities so these children are able to arrive at school having been in a safe environment and haven eaten a meal. They are then able to concentrate on academics and learn.

PINE BLUFF

Alfred Carroll is director of the elementary alternative learning environment in the Pine Bluff School District. Carroll has worked for the district for 38 years and remembers when the district enrolled 10,000 students.

“Over the years I have seen so many instances where we found kids in need and the Pine Bluff Commercial Christmas Card Fund came through,” Carroll said. “The social workers used the fund to make a difference in the kids’ lives.”

Children come to school hungry and cannot learn and they are fed through money given to the fund, made comfortable and then they perform more effectively in school, Carroll said. They also receive eyeglasses and clothes.

“I truly believe in the program,” Carroll said. “I was thinking about taking a pie in the face to help the fund. I will do that next year. It is worthy of doing whatever we can to help our students. If there is an extension of the deadline until January, I will do it this year. Come see an old man get pied in the face.”

The Pine Bluff School District currently enrolls about 3,720 students. Even with the decline in enrollment, Carroll said many students need assistance.

“We’ve seen the fund since its inception and thought it was great then and it’s great now,” Carroll said. “The schools provide meals and other assistance. Our kids need so many things. It is awesome to have the Christmas Card Fund available in our community.”

WATSON CHAPEL

Watson Chapel School District students are benefiting from the Pine Bluff Commercial Christmas Card Fund. The newspaper has sponsored the annual fund, which allows donors to make contributions, for the past 30 years. Anyone who gives at least $1 will have his or her name placed on a “Community Christmas Card” to be published in the Commercial on Christmas Eve.

Dovie Burl, the Watson Chapel School District school culture and climate specialist, said she has identified more than 150 students who are homeless. This information is derived through the students filling out paperwork.

Burl said the money donated to this fund provides personal hygiene products, school uniforms, school supplies, transportation and any other services that are needed to provide students with a quality education.

“It has been an exceptional help for us,” Burl said. “Our job is to educate the student. Any monies that are given to our district is huge to us. That number has grown drastically since last year. I am thankful for the opportunity to be a servant to these families.”

Watson Chapel has students living in cars, shelters, temporary housing, and doubling up with family members, Burl said. She visits some of those students.

“We are heading to CASA [shelter] right now to deliver items to students who are homeless,” Burl said.

DOLLARWAY

Dollarway Superintendent Barbara Warren thanks people for giving money to help her students. She is also asking Dollarway students and employees who can afford to give money to do so.

“It is helping a great deal. Like all districts, we have families who are in need,” Warren said. “We have provided uniforms, eyeglasses, medicines, school supplies, things that you could not purchase with regular operating funds. It has been a great help and a blessing to our district thanks to the Pine Bluff Commercial’s hard work.”

“This year we are making it a point to help other people in need to make sure our patrons have an opportunity to donate,” Warren said. “Our family engagement coordinator Candice Jones is spearheading the donations along with our social worker.”

WHITE HALL

Over the years, White Hall School District Interim Superintendent Doug Dorris has seen his district’s students benefit from community members donating money to the Pine Bluff Commercial Christmas Card Fund.

 “It helps our kids for a variety of reasons, kids who are in need,” said Dorris, who has been with the district for the last 37 years. “We use it when a family’s house is destroyed in a fire. We use it for a variety of things. They come and help us out.”