Benefactors hand out backpacks to ease back-to-school burden

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Jennifer Atienzo-Fisher, FWCS director of marketing and communications, packs a backpack to be given to an elementary student in need. (Garth Snow)

By GARTH SNOW
gsnow@kpcmedia.com

It’s a nylon bag with a shoulder strap. It’s blue, purple, black or Paisley. It holds crayons and tablets and pencils, maybe a snack or water, maybe a stuffed animal.

For schoolchildren, it’s the catch-all for perhaps a hundred dollars worth of learning supplies. For many families, that’s a hundred dollars outside the budget.

Several Fort Wayne area agencies, companies and volunteers recognized the importance of that back-to-school necessity and worked separately to make sure those backpacks were matched with more than 1,000 students who need them.

Volunteers filled and arranged 300 backpacks for distribution to FWCS elementary schools. (Garth Snow)

The staff of Fort Wayne Community Schools’ Grile Administrative Center pitched in all year to buy and fill 300 bags for students in need.

Lifeline Youth & Family Services gathered, filled and gave 500 backpacks to children in a low-income housing community.

Learn Resource Center in New Haven gave supply-filled bags to more than 200 students.

Wireless Zone handed out more than 200 backpacks at its West Illinois Road store.

The Salvation Army, The Fort Wayne Police Department, businesses, churches and many other groups also accepted and distributed school supplies.

Children gather school supplies at the Learn Resource Center backpacks giveaway in New Haven. (Contributed)

Krista Stockman, FWCS public information officer, said case managers will work with principals and talk with parents to decide which students receive the backpacks. “These will go to students in our elementary schools who might otherwise not have the supplies they need to start the school year,” she said.

Stockman and other Grile Center workers gathered Wednesday to fill the backpacks according to needs of two age groups. The effort netted 150 bags for students in kindergarten through second grade, and 150 for students in third through fifth grades.

“At our schools we really try to limit what we ask families to buy for back-to-school because we know it can be quite an expenditure,” she said. “If a kid at the end of he school year brings home a box of crayons and they’re still usable the next year, we’re fine with those kids bringing the crayons back and not getting a brand new box. This is for students for whom even that expenditure would be a little bit out of reach.

Pony rides add to the back-to-school celebration as Lifeline Youth & Family Services holds a backpacks giveaway at Brookmill Court Apartments. (Contributed)

“For some of our families even getting to a store for supplies can be difficult. And if a family can’t get to one of the big stores then they’re just going to a local neighborhood store, and they might not always have what they need. They might not have the lowest prices.”

Stockman said it’s all possible because of “casual Fridays” at the Grile Center. “On Fridays, if people want to dress more casually they can put a dollar in to donate to this,” she said. “Then in August we bring the supplies together. We get employees from throughout the building and put all these bags together.”

The process has been refined through its 26 years. In assembly line style, employees walked around a cluster of tables, picked up supplies, and left the stuffed bags at the center of the room.

“We have just the basic school supplies,” Stockman said, “binders, composition notebooks, pens, pencils, and those kind of things. And we throw in some fun things, some books, some toys, and then some toiletry items and some snacks. So it’s a little bit of everything.”

Community organizations and individuals also donate supplies to the project.

After the bags are packed, they will be given to elementary school case managers, who will work with principals to distribute them discreetly to students in need. Those needing assistance with school supplies should contact staff at their child’s school.

Lifeline Youth & Family Services held its annual Backpack Roundup event Aug. 1 at Brookmill Court Apartments on Covington Road, distributing 500 supply-filled backpacks to children and families in need. The event also offered face painting, pony rides, food and games. The agency reported 75 volunteers worked with the 600 attendees.

“The sense of community at the event is so special to witness,” Gordon Haines, executive vice president of Lifeline, said in a statement. “Because of Lifeline and our partners, 500 families won’t have to worry about how they’ll afford school supplies this year.”

“Backpack Roundup is always one of my favorite nights of the year. The sense of community at the event is so special to witness,” said Gordon Haines, executive vice president of Lifeline. “Because of Lifeline and our partners, 500 families won’t have to worry about how they’ll afford school supplies this year.”

“The event actually was like a celebration, a street fair, games and all sorts of things,” said Julia Bailey, communications coordinator. “Most of them are single moms and they need assistance with their kids. It’s definitely a big deal for them.”

For the eighth year, Wireless Zone distributed backpacks and school supplies to anyone who asked for them. School Rocks Backpack Giveaway was conducted in partnership with The Cellular Connection and Culture of Good.

In a news release, the company quoted the National Retail Federation as reporting that the average parents would spend $112 on school supplies.

Wireless Zone representative Brian McMeeking said the 9924 Illinois Road store ran out of the 200 backpacks in the first hour. Similar programs were offered in Wabash and Columbia City.

“It’s just part of our community giveback. We have people counting on us,” McMeeking said. “It was wonderful. I think it gives us all enjoyment to see all their happy faces. It’s a big treat to them.”

In New Haven, Learn Resource Center conducted the first Ready-to-Learn Backpack Giveaway, addressing needs of thousands of low-income households in the East Allen County School District. “For some families, it’s a decision between buying school supplies or paying the electric bill,” the agency said in an announcement.

As part of the event, five local stylists and one barber gave $1 haircuts for elementary children, with each dollar being donated to Learn Resource Center’s Scholarship Fund. 3Rivers Federal Credit Union donated more than 160 backpacks. The New Haven Chamber of Commerce and several businesses donated backpacks, school supplies and more than $800 for school supplies.

“It was a crazy day,” said Sharon Wilson, executive director. “Even though we ran out of bookbags we still had school supplies”

“We have a parent who’s been with our program, who’s a single mother and we have tried to really help her out,” Wilson said. “So I made sure that her son did get a bookbag because she worked during that event. And she pulled me over to the side to tell me thank you and she said, ‘If i wasn’t for you guys we wouldn’t be able to afford the things that we have.”