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Help for back to school

"The headquarters for Project: Backpack is a home garage fitted out like a stationery store, with spiral notebooks and other back-to-school items in neat piles. The impression of a small but well-tended commercial enterprise is reinforced when neighbor Barry Schuler strolls to the garage's open door.What do you have on special today? Schuler asks project coordinator Michelle Hutchins, tongue-in-cheek.Schuler has come to pick up a backpack and supplies a fifth grader needs to start the school year.Every kid deserves the basics to start school on the same footing as every other kid, and people get that right away, she said. These are just the basics - not the $95 for the senior cruise, the $300 for the least expensive yearbook portrait. The list of basic supplies Hutchins hands Schuler is more comprehensive than it might have been when Schuler was a student. Along with glue sticks and pencils are such items as a graphing calculator and computer software.Schuler returns the backpack.I'd rather have you fill it, he says.That works for Hutchins; there is more than one way to participate in the new program she started through Helpline House to funnel school supplies to families in need. Hutchins is happy to hand participants an empty backpack to fill from the list of suggested supplies. Or, one may simply write a check. With just two weeks to go, the program still has 25 backpacks to fill before they are distributed. Hutchins is heartened by the response. Most people relate to kids needing school supplies, she says.Some parents come in with their kids to pick up backpacks to fill. They say it's a good project to give children a sense of philanthropy, Hutchins said. One older woman gave up a month of lunch money to this project. The Kiwanis kicked off Project: Backpack with a $1,000 donation, and Human Performance Center helped find backpacks and tennis shoes at a deeply discounted rate.The only problem, Hutchins says, has been convincing some islanders that not every Bainbridge family can easily afford the estimated $265 needed to ready a high school student for September.The biggest hurdle we find is educating people that this need is real and that it exists on Bainbridge. But in the just the past year Helpline has seen a 30 percent increase in the children they see. Hutchins has structured the program so that participating young people cannot be identified. We make sure we have different colors and styles of backpack, Hutchins said. When we sent to LA to get tennis sneakers, we made sure they weren't 25 of the same shoe. Brochures are available at downtown merchants, and volunteers will be on hand Aug. 14-16 at Rite Aid to distribute empty backpacks and lists of needed items to individuals and organizations. Call 842-7621 for information. "

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