Project Backpack preps for 10th school year

With just a few days until supplies are distributed to island students, Helpline House’s Project Backpack is still in need of some key items.

“Around this time we’re starting to identify things we might be a little short on,” said Marilyn Gremse, Helpline House’s manager of volunteer services.

Project Backpack, a community effort to help defray the financial burden of supplies on island families, provided 193 students with school supplies last fall, and has helped more than 1,400 students over the last decade. While the official deadline is Friday, Helpline House will accept supplies through Monday, Gremse said.

Approximately 145 students from kindergarden through 12th grade have signed up for backpacks, she said.

Helpline House works with each of the district’s seven schools and assembles backpacks filled with a “baseline” of supplies that most teachers require, Gremse said.

“We’ve talked to all of the schools, talked to the school teachers and the counselors and so forth, and asked them what they want their kids to bring,” she said. “Each classroom has a slightly different list.”

Backpack distribution will begin Tuesday and continue through Thursday.

While Project Backpack is rarely short on crayons, the project still needs many specific items, Gremse said.

For younger students, blunt scissors and glue sticks are in demand. Strong, durable backpacks for high school students are also needed, Gremse said.

Another popular item for a range of grade levels is three-ring binders, especially in the one-and-a-half inch size, Gremse said. With the binders, students also need dividers.

“It’s funny, but we don’t get many of those packages of dividers,” she said. “People can visualize a binder with filler paper and dividers; that’s something if 100 people brought those, in we’d be in really good shape.

In addition to school supplies, students are asked to contribute items such as tissues, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes to the classroom. While these items are not usually thought of as backpack items, they are in high demand, Gremse said.

The cost of school supplies can range from $45 for first grade students up to $300 for a high school senior.

“We have a lot of supplies coming in from everybody,” Gremse said. “From churches to individuals who have already raised their kids, but they’ve always loved shopping for school supplies, so they shop for us. A lot of people do that – it’s a surprising number.”

Many grandparents of former students also contribute, Gremse said.

While the goal is to provide 150 to 175 backpacks and supplies are steadily coming in, donations are down “a little” from last year due to the economy, Gremse said.

Donations that are not spent on school supplies are kept in a fund to assist students throughout the year.

“That is cool because it can fund a myriad of things that a kid would not be able to afford and that we have no other resources for,” Gremse said. “Helping out with some kids who are playing sports and don’t have the sports fee, or the graphing calculators for higher level math classes.”

Most-needed supplies

•Three-ring binders (1.5 inch, in particular)

•Binder dividers

•Blunt scissors

•Glue sticks


•Liquid hand sanitizer

•Antibacterial wipes

Items will be collected through Monday at Helpline House, 282 Knechtel Way NE.

Backpacks will be distributed Tuesday-Thursday.

Contact 842-7621 for more information.

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