For many Bay Area families, back to school shopping puts an extra strain on an already tight household budget, which is why programs like the Sunnyvale Community Services (SCS) Backpack Drive are so essential.
On Aug. 1, the non-profit handed out 1,200 backpacks to kids getting ready to start a new school year, with another 500 backpacks expected to be handed out over the coming weeks. One hundred backpacks will also be given to local schools so that transfer and homeless students who enroll after the school year starts don’t miss out.
“Best Backpack Day ever,” said Tom Hamilton, the Director of Development and Communications at SCS. “We removed a few distractions that slowed the process and were less valued. To a person — both staff and volunteer — it was smooth, stress free, and fun for the kids.”
Each backpack is brand-new and filled with age-appropriate school supplies. It also contains a $40 gift certificate to Target so kids can get a new pair of shoes to start the school year. Hamilton says the outpouring of support from the Sunnyvale community helped make the drive a success.
“The community was tremendous,” said Hamilton. “They donated enough to cover the costs of all backpacks and supplies; and with corporate donations, we covered a good portion of the $40 Target gift cards we gave to each child.”
Volunteer hours are essential to an event of this magnitude. It takes months to prepare and get the facility ready for handing out the backpacks. A large amount of time is required to pack the backpacks, arrange reservations, and execute the distribution on the day of the event.
Hamilton estimates it takes well over 5,000 person-hours to carry out an event like this.
“This event attracts more volunteers than we have space to accommodate; just a tremendous experience all around,” said Hamilton.
This year’s Backpack Day included some special guests such as Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety Chief Phan Ngo, San Jose Earthquakes’ mascot Q, and Disney royalty from Beauty and the Beast. But the biggest star of them all was the backpacks.
“[Kids were excited to] choose their own backpack, especially the lower-grade kids,” said Hamilton.
SCS provides backpacks to residents of Sunnyvale and Alviso who cannot afford a backpack or basic school supplies. This year’s drive shows that the need is as great as ever.
“We had very few no-shows,” said Hamilton. “Clients signed up for a time slot during one of their pantry visit over the last few weeks. We took up to 35 people every 15 minutes. About 75 percent of the time slots were full, so traffic was steady through the day.”