Free backpacks filled with classroom supplies give local students in need a jump start to their school year. Rainbow’s End Youth Services in Mount Joy has over 500 backpacks in the process of being filled with school supplies for local children. The annual “Backpacks to School” drive is the week of Aug. 13. It helps students in preschool through 12th grade start the school year in a positive way. Last year the center gave nearly 700 school-aged children backpacks. The backpacks with school supplies are available at no cost to families.
“We don’t have a screening to qualify students to receive backpacks,” said Harrison Burch, office manager for REYS. “Sometimes a family member gets sick all of a sudden, or there is another unexpected situation, and there is a drain on finances.”
Burch smiled and laughed as he recounted going to local stores with Joel Hughes, executive director for the center, and filling carts to overflowing with backpacks and school supplies. He said they are often approached by curious shoppers, asking why they are purchasing so much. Backpacks and supplies are also donated by local churches, businesses, and individuals. REYS has a storage room with boxes of backpacks, most already filled, along with flats of school supplies, awaiting students, in the storage shed.
To receive a free backpack, parents and guardians sign up on the REYS website, reys.org. Parents complete the “request a backpack” formunder the events tab. Additional information can be found on the group’s facebook page. Deadline
for sign-up is Wednesday, Aug. 15. If parents miss the deadline, they can call the youth center at 717-653-9511 and speak to the staff. REYS is still accepting donations of backpacks and school supplies for this year’s give away. Those who want details about how to donate may contact the center.
New backpacks and school supplies are always needed. Some are kept through the school year for students new to the district. REYS works closely with the social worker at Donegal. Last year families, who arrived in Lancaster from hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico, received backpacks mid-year. Classroom supplies collected vary by age-group, and include pencils, composition books, crayons, erasers, notebooks, highlighters, graph paper, calculators, rulers, scissors, folders, filler paper, and markers.
During the week of Aug. 13, families, who signed-up for backpacks, meet staff members at the center for pre-designated appointment times to choose their backpacks. Each family gets time to talk with the staff. The staff gets to know them and assess their needs. Backpacks are stacked in the gym in age-appropriate groupings. Most children come to the appointments with their parents and choose from a selection of backpacks. Backpacks are various designs and from different stores, so it is not obvious they were donated.
Many community church youth groups and volunteers from local businesses assist with packing, moving, and organizing the backpacks.Last year The 72, a student service group from LCBC, donated time and muscles to move backpacks. Over 60 youth from the group made quick work of moving heavy backpacks into placefor the giveaway. The group is planning to volunteer again this year.