‘It’s like Christmas’: Angels Over Sandpoint hosts 15th annual Back to School Event

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff Writer

Calleigh Ochoa asked her grandmother again how long it would be until the doors would open. Again, Beverly Jennelle told her it would be only a few minutes.

They stood near the front of the line outside Farmin-Stidwell Elementary Tuesday afternoon in anticipation of the Angels Over Sandpoint Back to School Event, where hundreds of children from across Bonner County would receive donated school supplies.

No one could really blame Calleigh for her impatience. After all, she was about to pick out her very own brand new backpack — something both she and her sister Sitiva said they were excited about.

“It was really a godsend,” Jennelle, who cares for her granddaughters, said. She said she heard about the event through a call from Priest River Elementary. This kind of collaborative outreach with the local schools is what Angels volunteer BJ Biddle said made this year — the event’s 15th — so successful.

Biddle said the most exciting part about this year specifically was the addition of two satellite pick-up stations for registered families in Priest River and Clark Fork to reap the same benefits as the families who could pick up the supplies in Sandpoint. For some families, getting to town can be an ordeal, Biddle said, so the use of satellite distribution stations helped the Angels serve more children in a wider area this year.

“Our goal has always been, ‘How can we get more kids?’” she said.

The chair of the Back to School program, Robin Hanson, said the Angels work with Staples to purchase the supplies at a discounted price, and that they ask that families register ahead of time so that they can properly prepare. This year, she said the preparations went very smoothly.

“We’ve been doing it long enough that we’ve got it down,” she said. “We’ve got the best volunteers you could hope for.”

Hanson said her favorite part of the event is seeing the looks on the children’s faces.

“It’s like Christmas for 800 kids,” she said. “It makes them excited to go back to school.”

In her third year volunteering, retired teacher Sandy Ross said the Angels Back to School Event was the perfect way for her and other past teachers to give back to the community.

“It’s in my wheelhouse to help. Also, I know a lot about school supplies,” she said with a laugh.

Children registered to receive supplies got a large paper bag of classroom essentials, as well as the anticipated brand new backpack. Before exiting, they got to stop by a table of new books provided by the East Bonner County Library District and pick something out.

Minutes before the gym doors opened, Biddle recounted a story from a previous year of a little girl with “big blue eyes,” about preschool or Kindergarten age, walking into the stacks of backpacks and being told she could pick whichever she one she wanted. The girl’s eyes widened and she looked up at her mother.

“She said ‘Mama, I get to choose?’” Biddle said. “I’m going to cry thinking about it right now. From a human point of view, this is the most worthwhile thing I’ve ever done.”

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