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COVID-19 Alters Sunnyvale Community Services’ Annual Backpack Distribution Day

Despite the downturn in the economy and the social distancing required because of COVID-19, Sunnyvale Community Services (SCS) still managed to gather supplies for its annual backpack distribution days. Over the course of two days, SCS will hand out backpacks, school supplies and a Target gift card for new shoes to 2,000 local children.

To follow social distancing guidelines, this year’s event was no contact. Cars drove up, the backpacks and school supplies were placed in the trunk and the cars drove away. No one was allowed to get out of the car.

“It feels very different, but it’s still enjoyable to be able to give out the stuff for the kids,” said Alan Orcutt, who volunteered for his sixth backpack distribution day. “[In previous years], it was a much more festive atmosphere. I mean, we have decorations and stuff, so there’s a bit, but it’s nothing like the festival that we’ve had in some years past.”

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“Normally, [the backpacks] would be all sorted all different colors and styles and kids would get to choose themselves; the kids can just wander around and choose whatever color they like…today, they can’t,” said Jennifer Irvine, who volunteered for her fourth backpack distribution day.

SCS Executive Director Marie Bernard says while social distancing put a damper on the festivities, the agency tried to find other ways to make it special for the children.

“What’s exciting though is they’re getting really good high-quality materials. We want the children to feel like they’ve got something new whether or not they’re sheltering in place or going to school,” said Bernard. “[We wanted the children] to feel like they were getting something that if they were by themselves, they still were going to be able to creatively work and have the pens and paper and everything else that they needed to do their school assignments.”

Volunteer Irvine is happy to see that even with the changes, the meaning of the event is not lost.

“It’s so wonderful just to be able to help out a family,” said Irvine. “By the time you add up the cost of all the school supplies and binders and backpacks for a family, you know, with multiple children, it’s a lot of money. So, it’s like a small way we can help out and get help kids get excited about being back to school.”

This year saw greater need than last year. SCS handed out 1,600 backpacks last year compared to the 2,000 it expects to hand out this year. Students in Sunnyvale School District, Santa Clara Unified School District and Fremont High School District all received backpacks.

It cost SCS approximately $200,000 to complete this year’s backpack distribution. Bernard says it was possible thanks to corporate sponsors Facebook, Intuitive, NetApp, Google, LinkedIn and individuals like Ashvin Kannan and Madhuri Ramanathan.

“This was a very, very focused campaign that we did, and people really reached out positively and said, ‘Okay.’ We were just so grateful for the generosity,” said Bernard. “I mean, when you say to people, ‘You’re going to help children with school supplies and shoes.’ They get it.”

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