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Elmira agency is already in back-to-school mode

Kelly Christie is gathering new school supplies and cash donations at Woolwich Community Services for the annual backpack program. [Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
Kelly Christie is gathering new school supplies and cash donations at Woolwich Community Services for the annual backpack program.[Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
Kelly Christie is gathering new school supplies and cash donations at Woolwich Community Services for the annual backpack program. [Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
Thinking about back-to-school shopping will likely make students groan right now, but the twelfth annual backpack program is in full swing at Woolwich Community Services.

The service provides the backpack and the supplies to fill them to families who might otherwise have a hard time getting ready for resumption of classes.

Kelly Christie, director of community supports, said they’re accepting donations of new school supplies and cash. They expect to distribute 160 to 175 backpacks this year, but they’ll prepare for 200.

“We set up the day before and we don’t fill backpacks,” Christie said. “We believe that the kids should have the choices.”

Supplies will be categorized according to grade levels so the temptation to choose items they don’t need isn’t there. They’re also all non-identifiable, so no one will know if a child’s supplies came through the program or were bought by their parents.

“They get to pick out if there’s a certain character they like and we happen to have their backpack or if they’re all about purple and pink then they pick purple and pink,” Christie said.

Last year they also started giving out lunch bags with a sandwich container and two snack containers. She said this ensures everyone has a way to take their food to school, in conjunction with the lunch crunch program that provides noon meal supplies to families from low incomes.

All of their programs are for anyone in Woolwich Township and some parts of Wellesley, like Heidelberg, St. Clements and Linwood.

Anyone from junior kindergarten to college is eligible for the program if they’re from a low-income family.

“We’ve had some kids come in needing stuff for college. We’ve had parents returning to college come in and get their school supplies,” Christie said.

The backpack program relies on donations from service clubs, churches, and community members. Christie said it’s always been well supported that way.

“Some kids can come in, pick their backpacks and off they go,” Christie said. “Other kids, they try on every backpack and every zipper. It’s hilarious but it’s fabulous that they get to choose it.”

She said the program’s importance lies on every child starting school on an equal playing field. Each year students are expected to bring more supplies that used to be provided by the school. She said this puts extra strain on tight budgets, which keeps the program well used.

“We take care of the people in our community and then we have a healthy community, young people that are going to grow up to have positive experiences at school and stay in the school system.”

During the backpack program families will also be able to partake in the Brush-Book-Bed program, started by Coleton Benham. He has collected more than 150 toothbrushes, books, and 40 pairs of pajamas so far to donate to local students.

“I think it’s absolutely fabulous because it will reach the families that would benefit from those and it will also be nice timing as far as getting the kids in a nice routine,” Christie said.

Families can come in to get their backpacks and supplies from August 27 to 29. Donations can be dropped off at WCS (73 Arthur St. S., Elmira) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. by August 22.

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