By Ben Olson
For the 14th year, parents and students alike lined up at Farmin Stidwell Elementary School on Tuesday to receive some much-needed assistance by the Angels Over Sandpoint Back to School program.
The popular event sponsored by the nonprofit Angels Over Sandpoint provides free school supplies to students in need.
“This is my favorite event that we put on,” said Amy Flint, president of the Angels Over Sandpoint. “We get to put a lot back into the community on multiple levels. It helps level the playing field for all students.”
When the program began in 2002, 20 children benefited. This year, over 400 families and 859 students signed up to receive assistance. The program is funded solely by a combination of donations and grant writing by the Angels.
“We worked closely with Staples, who is our partner when it comes to ordering supplies, storing them, and delivering them to us,” said Angels member Robin Hanson. “We also receive donations from Sandpoint Super Drug.”
Each registered student received a free backpack and a grocery bag full of supplies such as binders, pens, pencils and the like. For the third year, the Angels have also incorporated personal hygiene into the mix, providing toothbrushes, toothpaste and deodorant.
Walking into the gym at Farmin-Stidwell, hundreds of backpacks are lined up according to grade level in the “backpack corral” managed with efficiency by Merry Brown-Hayes and husband Tony Hayes. Behind the registration table, dozens of Angels volunteers hand out grocery bags full of supplies. As the doors open, the families stream in with excitement and glee, some children hopping about with joy as they pick out their favorite backpack designs. You can literally see the relief on parents’ faces when they walk out with hundreds of dollars of free school supplies.
For mother of three, Kristin Osborne, the program saves her at least $50 per student.
“It helps out a lot,” said Osborne, who attended the event for the third year with her three children. “I still have to get school clothes and shoes, and this year they are requiring kids to have ear buds for iPads, but it’s a really great program. It’s really helpful for the community.”
Priest River mom Heather Dodd agreed: “I save a lot of money,” she said. “At least $50 or more after all the supplies they give us.”
Angels volunteer B.J. Biddle believes the outcome is worth the effort and hard work.
“Each one of us volunteers probably has an amazing story to tell about this program,” said Biddle. “One year I saw this family in the backpack corral. This little kindergartner walked in and was told she could pick out any backpack she wanted. She looked up to her mom and said, ‘Momma, I get to choose a new backpack!’ It warmed my heart. Stories like that make all the aches and pains worth it.”
According to Hanson, the school supplies cost the Angels around $30,000 each year.
“The best part is, whatever money we don’t spend goes into a shoe voucher fund,” said Hanson.
Teachers and guidance counselors can dole out shoe vouchers to students throughout the year who might benefit from a helping hand.
To register for next year’s Back to School program, contact the Community Action Partnership at 255-2910 after the school year and register your students. It only takes a moment.
Also, to donate to this worthy cause, you may send checks to PO Box 2369, Sandpoint, ID 83864.
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