The Barry County United Way’s annual Backpack Program ensures that children start off the school year on the right foot. Through this program, the children themselves come in and choose their own backpack for school, then proceed to fill it with items that the local school have outlined as needed (crayons, markers, notebooks, pencils, etc.). In partnership with Hastings City Bank, who graciously allowed us to use their conference room area, our intent was to run this program the week of August 21-25, 2017 as this was before a majority of our local schools began session. However, as of August 29 we were still registering families and allowing children to come in to our office – now converted to “Back to School Central” - to pick out their backpacks. The first week of this program we assisted 341 children in getting ready to start school. As we continue to field calls, these numbers continue to rise.
This program empowers children by allowing them to make the choices while providing financial relief to parents or guardians. Going back to school can be costly on a family’s budget, especially when those dollars are already being spread so thinly. It is truly amazing to see happy smiles on the children’s faces with their new backpacks and tears of thankfulness from parents who didn’t know how they would make ends meet this year.
Our annual Backpack Program goes beyond the first few weeks leading up to school starting. At the end of the program, we package up a few of the backpacks and keep them on hand at the office. In the event that a student at a local school is in need of a backpack or school supplies, the school districts know that they can contact our office and we will ensure that the child gets a new backpack.
The backpack program is an income qualifying program in which family households must be under 200% of poverty, parents or guardians must have custody of the child(ren), they must live in Barry County and children must be enrolled in school (K-12th grade). In more recent years, we have partnered with a local church to provide backpacks for pre-school and Young 5 children. One of our United Way partner agencies also hosts a free shoes, socks and underwear program around this time and we have been able to utilize the same intake process to refer families over to their organization.
For any child, having new shoes, socks and underwear at the beginning of school is a huge confidence boost and along with our backpack program, we are invoking a sense of pride that allows the children to start school of right!
This program runs completely on donations of items and privately donated dollars. Volunteers provide the helping hands needed to provide this program from shopping to helping kids make great choices in what kind and color of pencil box they would like!
This guest post comes from Morgan Johnson, Volunteer Center Director at Barry County United Way. Barry County United Way serves Barry County in south-central Michigan.