OAKLAND (CBS 5) – Teachers will tell you, when students arrive with the tools for school, they’re often excited to learn. An Oakland woman has spent the last decade making sure tens of thousands of low income kids are prepared.

It’s summer vacation, but Dee Johnson and her volunteers at Lend a Hand Foundation are sorting donated supplies for the first day of school. They want to fill 10,000 backpacks to give to low income students in 24 Oakland schools.

“They can do just like everybody else. They just need someone to help guide and lead them,” Johnson explained.

Johnson, a foster parent for 9 years, co-founded the Lend a Hand Foundation in 1997 after her lung cancer went into remission.

“I believe God left me here for a reason, so I needed to reconnect with what I was doing somehow with children,” Johnson said. “I loved children.”

Over the years, Lend a Hand has given away more than 33,000 backpacks filled with school supplies.

Johnson gives special attention to homeless and foster children.

“Seeing a child coming into your home that hasn’t had anything to eat for days or has been abused or neglected… it just really touched my heart,” she remembered.

This fall, all 400 students at Frick Middle School will receive new backpacks from Lend a Hand. Eighth grader Elizabeth Davis got one last year.

“When I wake up in the morning, I don’t have to worry about coming to school,” Davis said. “I have my supplies ready.”

Assistant Principal Jeffery Taylor said the backpacks saved one mother from postponing her children’s enrollment.

“She started crying because she said she couldn’t afford to get the supplies for her students,” Taylor reported. “We explained to her, ‘Don’t worry, we have backpacks for your students,’ and the kids cried, mom cried.”

Johnson also holds stay-in-school programs at Lend a Hand’s Oakland office. They support kids with lunch money, life-skills workshops, and gift cards for supplies as rewards for good grades.

The nonprofit hosts parties too, for Christmas and Easter, and offers scholarships.

Founding President Tony Morgan credits Johnson’s tireless leadership.

“I have never seen her give up,” Morgan said. “She’s like the energizer bunny.”

For her own inspiration, the Oakland native credits the sacrifice and generosity of her mother and grandmother.

“They taught me at a very early age how important it was to give back,” she said.

So for lending a hand to tens of thousands of Oakland children, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Dee Johnson.

Lend A Hand is accepting donations of supplies and cash for its backpack giveaway August 25, 2012. If you’d like to help, connect with them using this link: http://www.lendahandfoundation.org/

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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