University City

Donations still needed for free backpack program’s Aug. 23 back-to-school event

An organization that provides free backpacks stocked with school supplies to students in need is still seeking donations for its annual back-to-school event.

Our Foundation For Children will host its RightStart Initiatives backpack event Aug. 23, and organizer Clair Lane said any parent who brings their child can receive a backpack full of supplies.

“We’ll hand out to anyone who can get to us. If they hear about us, we will give them a backpack, as long as the child is there,” she said, noting the event is first-come-first-served.

Lane, who started the foundation with her husband more than a decade ago, said the event has grown from 10 backpacks given away in 2004 to nearly 1,000 in 2013.

The goal for 2014 is to hand out 1,500 backpacks, Lane said, but donations have been slow to come in. Standard 16- to 18-inch backpacks – not the “drawstring” variety – are the foundation’s greatest need.

“We’re up to about 450 (backpacks). We’re hoping to get 1,500,” Lane said.

While they do have a number of the string backpacks, those are most suitable for high-schoolers, who have fewer textbooks than middle-schoolers, she said.

The event has always been able to serve those who come out, with any extras given to schools with student need in the Derita and University City areas, Lane said.

In past years, the event also has served as a health fair, Lane said. A dental van will be among the other groups attending this year’s event, but the health focus will be less broad.

Also new this year will be the suggested donation of $1 per backpack from the parents, Lane said: “We really do need help getting backpacks every year.”

The cost of a standard-sized backpack varies by retailer and the store’s sale schedules. While backpacks at Walgreens typically cost around $20, Lane said, a recent sale had them priced about $11 apiece, in addition to being “buy-one-get-one-free.”

“We bought 300; really, they were about $5.50 per backpack,” she said, adding the foundation also works with a wholesaler that offers them at $5 apiece. The funding comes from donations to the foundation or Lane and her husband’s money, she said.

After school starts and retailers put supplies including pens, pencils and paper on sale for as low as 18 cents, Lane said, she’ll buy as much as funding allows to prepare for the next year’s program.

For those interested in donating, solid-colored, generic backpack donations have the best chance of benefiting a student, Lane said.

“We try to keep it functional because you don’t know if a girl is going to take it or a boy (or what age group). We may have more boys than girls; you never know who’s going to show up,” Lane said, adding a boy would be unlikely to use a pink or Hello Kitty backpack.

The foundation works with a number of community partners, including the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, to collect donations. Officer Chris Kopp, a community coordinator in the University City Division, said the department has been involved with the program for the last two years.

“It’s nice to help the people we see every day,” he said, noting the majority of backpack recipients live in neighborhoods the division serves.

Kopp said the department is able to help connect interested business owners with the foundation. “Many smaller businesses want to get involved but don’t know where to turn,” he said. “We’re able to get them in touch with the local community.”

Last year, the division was able to donate about 100 backpacks through community collection efforts, Lane said. This year, police and students from Vance High School collected nearly a barrel-full of supplies.

Lane said the supply most needed to fill the backpacks are 3-inch binders, a requirement for students, particularly those in middle school, for core classes.

While Lane expects a number of Vance students to volunteer at the Aug. 23 event, she said, they still need community volunteers as well.

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