Mission Waco’s Back-to-School Backpacks Project is in full swing, and officials with the nonprofit are expecting to help more economically disadvantaged students than in years past. For the second year, Mission Waco is focusing on backpacks instead of collecting all school supplies, development assistant Joyce Brammer said.

The group, which works to empower the poor and marginalized, is trying to collect at least 1,000 durable backpacks and a few other school supplies from now until Aug. 2 for low income families to purchase at a two-day school supply store before the new school year starts.

Mission Waco hosted a general school supply drive for about 15 years, collecting items from Waco ISD’s annual school supply list. But several other nonprofits in the area have similar drives, and leaders realized they could fill a need for backpacks, which are expensive relative to other supplies, Brammer said. So the group has switched its focus to offering backpacks with a retail value of $25-$30 for $5 each, she said.

“You think about the parents whose child has this really cute backpack, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but maybe in a couple months they have to go out and buy another one,” she said. “That’s doubled that expense. Plus transportation’s always an issue. Sometimes, the parents are holding down several jobs or there are issues in the household and they can’t just pick up and go buy a backpack that’s just busted in the house.”

Mission Waco has been able to help more students than it would if it continued its general supply drive, Brammer said. Last year, the group served 362 households and more than 1,000 children. In 2015, before the redesign, the group served 300 households and about 800 students, she said.

“Every year, the community is just generous and if they’re not donating the supplies themselves, they’re donating the money and we’ve been able to make ends meet,” Brammer said.

Some of the backpacks are donated by individuals and others are special ordered through a supplier depending on what’s needed, she said. Volunteers will also stuff the bags with donated No. 2 pencils, new socks, pens, hand sanitizer and pocket folders with brackets before opening a school supply store for two days.

The store opens 8-10 a.m. Aug. 5 and 5-7 p.m. Aug. 8 at Mission Waco’s Children’s Center, 1525 West Ave. Parents must attend a family resource session, which lasts about 30 minutes, then pay $5 for each backpack to get the supplies. Families have a limit of four backpacks per a household.

The nonprofit agency is also looking for volunteers, Brammer said.

Mission Waco needs about 100 on Aug. 3 to put supplies in the backpacks and then about 300 to operate the store both days, she said.

LaTrice Caufield is a volunteer with the Back-to-School Backpacks Project. She is also a single mother of four working to jobs and has benefited directly from the program, she said. She has seen how the drive has grown and how much leeway a $5 backpack gives parents to buy other supplies, compared to buying everything at full price.

“Sometimes clothes can take everything to where you don’t have enough for school supplies or the backpacks,” Caufield said. “When they started this, I was excited because that’s enough money to get an extra shirt or some extra shorts or something. . . . This is a blessing to me.”

Whether it’s Mission Waco’s Back-to-School Backpack Project or other drives, including Communities in Schools of the Heart of Texas’ annual Bust the Bus, the efforts show what can be done when a community comes together, Prosper Waco executive director Matthew Polk said.

For Bust the Bus, Communities in Schools parks a school bus in Walmart parking lots and asks for school supply donations to be dropped off in the bus.

“This is an example of the kind of thing where there’s an opportunity to harness this energy for giving our community has,” Polk said.Anyone interested in volunteering for the Back-to-School Backpacks Project can email Mission Waco at volunteers@missionwaco.org. For more information, visit www.missionwaco.org or call 753-4900. To donate, visit Mission Waco, 1315 N. 15th Street.

Shelly Conlon has covered K-12 education for the Tribune-Herald since July 2016. Prior to the Tribune-Herald, she was the managing editor for the Waxahachie Daily Light, and an intern for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times as the 2010 TCCJA Journalist of the Year.

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