Shouldering backpacks full of pencils, paper and other needed classroom supplies, hundreds of kids in Alameda and Contra Costa counties are now ready to start the school year -- all thanks to generous donations made to Bay Area News Group's annual Project Ready to Learn backpack drive.
While volunteers are still collecting, sorting and distributing many the school supplies to low-income families, they believe donations are nearly comparable to last year's drive, which provided almost 2,500 filled packs through the two-county project. The drive hit a high of 3,500 in 2008.
"Every pack counts," said Sylvia Soublet of Alameda County Social Services, which facilitated the drive along with Contra Costa's VESTIA, the Volunteer Emergency Services Team In Action.
VESTIA coordinator Anne Struthers was delighted with the success of the program.
"Between the donated packs and supplies and our purchasing, we have distributed over 1,500 backpacks so far and we anticipate more by the end of August," she said. "We think that is pretty darn good!"
Struthers said actual pack donations were down somewhat this year, but monetary contributions were strong. In addition, VESTIA received support from K to College -- another nonprofit that supplies kids with school necessities throughout the state -- to help out with the last 200 packs requested by local needy families. And the Rolling Hills and Diablo Valley chapters of the National Charity League
"Prices have really gone up this year, and just buying the backpacks alone can be a struggle for families," Struthers said.
In Alameda County, about 650 backpacks and numerous bags of notebooks, pens, pencils and even flash drives were dropped off at various donation-barrel locations. In addition, staff and volunteers took in about $750 in monetary donations, Soublet said, which will allow them to purchase more packs and needed items to reach a total of at least 1,000 packs in that county.
Many of the families who request backpacks are on state aid and already find it a challenge just to pay rent and buy food. Packs are also provided to children in foster care.
"We want to say a big thank you to everyone who helped out," Struthers said.
While the barrel donation portion of Project Ready to Learn's backpack and school-supply drive ended Aug. 13, cash or check contributions are welcome any time of year to support school kids.