NEW PORT RICHEY — A group of Cypress Elementary School students gathered in the school’s media center around a large table loaded with yellow and blue drawstring bags. The students were curious to see what was inside and delighted to know they’d be taking one home so they could create their very own summer art projects.
Cypress principal Tracy Graziplane and assistant principal Erika Tonello stood nearby, happy to see the donated supplies they would give to 40 Cypress students during the last week of school. At Gulf Highlands Elementary, administrators had 30 bags for their students.
Makenna Gilliam, 11 and in fourth grade said she received a bag last year.
“I like drawing, and I used up all my supplies last summer,” she said. “I drew things like sharks and flowers.”
Others around Makenna nodded in agreement.
“I drew plants and bunnies,” said first-grader Emma Dwyer, watching Janet Litzel unload a drawing pad, colored pencils, ruler, storage pouch, markers and more from a yellow bag.
The value of each bag and its contents was $7.
Janet and her husband, Jack Litzel, began the art donations as part of the Pac-A-Sac program that sends food donations home with students. The Litzels and a group of Seven Springs Country Club residents “Candy Crew” — Jim Kowalski, Jane Scroggs, Lucille Stora, Linda Legeret and Linda Cotter — had donated candy to Pac-A-Sac for holidays. Janet Litzel and Legeret, members of the Pasco Fine Arts Council, reasoned it would be good to put together art supplies for summer.
Financial donations are accepted from Candy Crew members, friends at the Arts Council and anyone who wants to help. Schools provide a list of children and their ages, and supplies are bought and organized to be age-appropriate for the children.
Jo Baughman, director of Pasco Fine Arts, is enthusiastic about what she calls the Knapsack Project.
“This program is near and dear to all of us at PFAC,” she said. “Art is a way for everyone to express fears, frustrations, joys and sorrows, and our hope is that these small tokens of art supplies will give the kids a way to express these emotions. In addition, it provides them with fun things they can do to pass away a long hot summer and gives them something of their own to take with them anywhere.”
The program is in its second year. Janet Litzel would like to see it grow.
“It would be great to secure a grant and provide materials for children in other schools as well,” she said.
Gail Diederich is a retired Pasco County teacher of 32 years. She writes feature stories with an education focus for Pasco and Hernando counties. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.