There's still time to help low-income families get back-to-school backpacks and necessary supplies as the academic year begins.

The Project Ready To Learn school supply drive held by VESTIA, the Volunteer Emergency Services Team In Action, ends Thursday, but workers have already handed out about 1,200 packs to families in Contra Costa County -- thanks to individual donations of funds, supplies and packs, as well as to several groups that particpated this year, holding their own drives then donating nearly 600 filled packs to the VESTIA program.

"Our goal this year is to give out between 1,000 to 1,500 backpacks, and I believe we can reach the 1,500 -- we're almost there!" says an overjoyed Eugenia Hidalgo-Malacas, donation coordinator for VESTIA.

Still, she says, "Every day, I get calls about someone needing a backpack, and now school is about to start. And every day, I speak to a donor in the community, asking if it's too late to donate. We're so thankful to our community for helping fill a big gap and for responding to that need."

Donation barrels for Project Ready To Learn are stationed at several local businesses, including the offices of the Contra Costa Times, now located at 175 Lennon Lane in Walnut Creek, and at the East County Times, 1700 Cavallo Road, Antioch.

There is no cutoff date for cash and check donations, which are accepted any time of the year.


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Many of the families who request backpacks from this program are on state aid. Buying the needed items to prepare a child for the school year is often a burden, adding up to more than $60 to purchase a basic backpack and fill it with pens, paper and binders. Packs are also provided to children in foster care.

In 2013, VESTIA gave out more than 1,300 backpacks to kids in low-income families.

For a list of needed school supplies, drop-off locations and other ways to donate, visit VESTIA's website at www.vestiainc.org and click on "Ready to Learn."

Follow Angela Hill at Twitter.com/GiveEmHill.