Once upon a time, back-to-school preparation meant getting a new pair of shoes and maybe a new notebook and pencil case for school-age children.Those days are long gone. Today’s parents face the challenge of providing their children with supplies that schools once made available in abundance.It’s tough enough for families with adequate incomes to provide notebooks, pens, pencils, crayons, markers, assignment books, paper, rulers and backpacks at the beginning of the school year for their children. But when a family’s income barely pays the rent and provides food on the table, there is a good chance their children won’t have the basic tools needed for learning.Keenly aware of the growing need for help, Jackie and John Treuting of St. Jude Church in Westlake Village this year ramped up their annual efforts to have backpacks — stuffed with needed supplies — donated for hundreds of children in need. “It is wonderful to see how it has grown,” says Jackie. “This year we were able to provide 630 backpacks for distribution in multiple locations.”Those locations include Catholic Charities in Ventura, Moorpark and Thousand Oaks; Heart to Heart and MICOP in Oxnard; Lutheran Service and Mini Mansions, both in Thousand Oaks; and Care and Share in Simi Valley.Active with St. Jude’s Loaves and Fishes ministry since 2002, the Treutings became motivated to meet a critical need for school supplies for client families of Catholic Charities. Every year donations from parishioners have increased, but so has the need. This year the Treutings were able to connect with a backpack manufacturer for a donation of an additional 300 backpacks. Through the generosity of the parish, each backpack is stuffed with needed supplies. “These days schools are requiring parents to provide supplies,” explains Frans Reijerse, program coordinator at Catholic Charities, Ventura. “We have seen a lot of ongoing need as well as new families in need. Our office received 100 backpacks from St. Jude parish and another two dozen from School on Wheels — a tutoring program for homeless families — and we still do not have enough for all our client families.”Both recipient children and their parents express gratitude for the support the new backpacks and supplies provide for their families. Melena Sparks is starting third grade in her new community of Santa Paula. She loves art and music, especially drawing and painting. Serena, her mom, works part time while her dad seeks employment and both parents care for their children, but they are struggling.“This is a lifesaver,” Serena Sparks says of the donated backpacks. “I have two children in school and cannot meet all of these needs. This means a lot for people like us.”Likewise, Ann Develasco of Ventura struggles to get her three children ready to return to classes. A student herself — she attends dental hygiene school — Develasco has a tenth grade daughter at El Camino High School and two younger children at Portola Elementary. Third grader Jhetta wants to be a writer, while tenth grader Nicolette intends to become a veterinarian for large animals and is trying to graduate early so that she can start college. Currently Nicolette spends time working with horses as a volunteer in a program for autistic children. With high aspirations, school supplies are essential.“This program is huge and such a big help,” Develasco says. “Kids need their tools. Once you have all the essentials you can just piece it together.”Jackie Treuting knows that the needs will continue to grow for struggling families, and she and John encourage groups in other parishes to start their own ministry to provide school supplies for children. “We find at St. Jude that if information about the need is out there, more people will participate. We are more than happy to show a parish how to start.”{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0830/backpacks/{/gallery}