By Jessica Lyons
Each summer students get a list of supplies they'll need for the upcoming school year. Unfortunately, not all families can afford to purchase everything on the list, which is where Sacred Heart Community Service and its Pack-A-Back 2012 program come in. Volunteer and Drives Coordinator Terri West explains how the program helps students and how others can join the efforts.
Study.com: Can you tell me a little bit about Sacred Heart Community Service and what your mission is?
Terri West: Our mission is to build a community free from poverty by creating hope, opportunity and action. We provide essential services, empower people to improve their lives, advocate for justice and inspire volunteers to love, serve and share.
Our agency serves an average of 2,000 people per day. Most are coming in for food and clothing, but more and more are looking for housing assistance and employment. I would say that 98% of our customers are working, but they do not make enough to cover all of their necessities. We have education programs for youth and adults and hope to allow people to become self-sufficient.
Study.com: How long has Sacred Heart Community Service been holding the Pack-A-Back program? Is this an annual drive?
TW: We started this about 15 years ago with 60 backpacks. We hold it every year.
Study.com: What sort of difference do you think these backpacks and schools supplies can make in the lives of the children who receive them? How will it impact their school year?
TW: Most of the students who come to SHCS are living in poverty, meaning that they are not receiving three meals a day and their parents may be working 2-3 minimum wage jobs and still cannot make enough to live above the poverty rate. An average backpack costs between $60 and $100 filled with the supplies they are asked to bring to school. This program gives them a chance to not only start off the year with a brand new bag and feel like every other kid, but it gives them the tools to feel ready and excited about education.
Study.com: What is the age range of the kids who will receive the supplies? How are they selected?
TW: Kids are K-12th grade. It is a first-come, first-serve program with no requirements but proof of age of the student. We have parents who line up the night before the registration day to ensure that their children get a bag, so the need is really high.
Study.com: What is your goal for how much you would like to collect?
TW: 2,300 filled backpacks (all brand-new bags and supplies).
Study.com: What kind of support have you received from the community so far?
TW: We are still early in our program, so at this point we are counting on the community to really jump in and help. We won't give out bags until mid-August, but as of now we have somewhere near 500. We are quite a ways away from our goal!
Study.com: What do you find to be the most rewarding part of the program?
TW: The kids are excited to get something new and to be able to pick out their own bag, and donors are always excited about this program, but I think my favorite part is hearing from the parents that their children will be like everyone else on the first day of school. The fact that they live in poverty has a huge impact on their education, but to have all of these supplies and to be excited about their first day is really touching.
Study.com: How can our readers help with Pack-A-Back 2012?
TW: We need donations of new school supplies and backpacks! We also provide gift cards to Payless and Target so that parents can purchase shoes for the kids. People can also donate cash/check or gift cards to purchase supplies.
Study.com: Is there anything else that you'd like to share with our readers about Pack-A-Back 2012?
TW: We all know education is extremely important, but when our kids cannot afford to start off the year with the right tools, something is wrong in our community. I am overwhelmed every year by the response we have from our neighbors that can help out. Please take a look at our website for some details on what the children receive. Every box of crayons or pack of pencils helps! Thank you!
Study.com donated $500 to Pack-A-Back 2012. Visit their website to find out how you can also support Pack-A-Back 2012!
In Portland, the non-profit organization Friends of the Children is helping at-risk children by providing them with mentors.