CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — After collecting numerous carloads of school supplies and the backpacks to hold them, volunteers with two well-known organizations made time last week to get those supplies into the hands of students in need.
On Aug. 21 a dozen members of the Chamber of Southern Saratoga County’s Women in Business Committee took time before their monthly meeting to fill 30 backpacks with pencils, pens, notebooks, file folders, and other assorted school items.
These backpacks were destined for clients of Wellspring in Saratoga Springs. They were to be distributed to families the organization works with throughout Saratoga County.
After all the colorful supplies were inventoried and put in appropriate stacks on a row of tables in a back room of the chamber's office on Clifton Country Road, the volunteers quickly gathered on one side of the tables and began filling backpacks.
‘Backpacks of Hope’ is just one of four yearly initiatives from WIB (Women in Business) under the more all-encompassing title of Baskets of Hope. In addition to taking care of children’s school needs, Baskets of Hope provides household items and personal hygiene items for families in the community.
The WIB committee has been collecting supplies and backpacks and distributing them for more than 10 years.
“Wellspring serves all of Saratoga County for those affected by domestic violence and sexual assault,” said the organization’s Director of Development Stevie Fellows. “The backpack program is helpful because our clients are going through crises and most times that means temporary housing. This relieves them of the burden a parent faces of having to buy all these supplies. It’s time and it’s financial too. These things add up.”
Fellows added that in many cases due to the family’s situation the children will, in many cases, be starting school in a new school district where they have few if any friends.
“It gives the kids something nice for the start of the school year,” Fellows said.
“It helps focus our program and with Wellspring it may ultimately get someone the help they need,” added the chamber’s Director of Operations Sheila Whinnery.
Within 30 minutes the backpacks were filled and the monthly WIB meeting was ready to get underway. Scanning the now empty tables committee chairwoman Julie Ohliger, the director of membership and communications at the Edison Club, critiqued the Backpack effort.
“It’s rewarding,” she said. “Our entire Baskets of Hope program is rewarding. It’s a way for us to give back to the community.”
At 5 p.m. the following day volunteers from Northway Church and Cengage Learning worked side by side with those from CAPTAIN Community Human Services in a similar effort at CAPTAIN’s office on Route 146.
At the CAPTAIN backpack distribution, the filling of the backpacks was done by the students and their parents as volunteers kept the stacks of items supplied. Thirty-nine families with 83 school-aged children had signed up for the backpack program.
After signing in at the door, students chose a new backpack and slowly filed into a room filled with tables stacked high with school supplies, There were packages of punched loose-leaf paper, composition notebooks, boxes of crayons, binders, folders, pencils, pens, rulers, bottles of glue, highlighters, pencil boxes, calculators, packages of tissues and much more.
Each student went through the cafeteria-style line holding either a hard copy of their required school needs or a smartphone showing the list. The supplies had been collected from corporate, nonprofit, and individual donations.
With wide eyes one student after another went through the line, some occasionally fingering the supplies they were choosing wondering how they would be used in the coming year before slipping them into their backpacks.
As one elementary school student carefully considered whether to choose a red or a green pencil case he described the difficulty of the task to Northway Church member Kristin Kruzikas who held a cardboard box of them.
“They’re Christmas colors,” he said. It’s tough to decide.”
Barbara, who asked that her last name not be used, described how much the free backpack and school supplies helped her.
“It would probably cost me $50 without them doing this,” she said. “I’d have to send my 6-year-old son to school with his old backpack and a few pencils and hope for the best.”
Angela, another mother, accompanying her son to the distribution, watched as he went through the line filling up his backpack.
“It’s our first time here,” she said. “They cut my hours back from 60 hours a week to zero. The calculator he needs is $100 alone. I’m wondering what we’re going to do about school clothes. We did the YMCA buying trip the last few years, but we missed it this year.”
After finishing filling his backpack her son, Keith, said he was grateful for the community’s generosity and the work of CAPTAIN and all the volunteers.
“It’s awesome to get all the things I need,” he said. “It’s really nice of them to do this for us.”