RICHMOND, Va. -- Even on a 95-degree summer afternoon in a parking lot, more than 250 volunteers stuffed thousands of backpacks with school supplies which will end up in the hands of Richmond school students when they begin class.
The annual Ultimate Backpack School Supply Drive, which was held at the Diamond Wednesday afternoon, has grown into one of the largest school supply efforts in the country.
The goal in 2021, following more than a year of virtual learning for most Richmond students, was to send 10,000 to 15,000 backpacks stuffed supplies to RPS and community organizations. Timmy Nguyen, who coordinates the event and volunteer effort, said they were on their way to reaching that goal.
“It’s just unbelievable to see how many people are coming here to give back to the kids and help them. It says a lot about Richmond, Virginia, but also, our entire state. People are donating from everywhere, not just Richmond,” Nguyen said. “Just to see the expression on the kid's face, just makes a whole of difference to know the impact you’re having and that you’re helping them start the school year on the right foot.”
RPS, CoStar Group, Walmart, Virginia529, Virginia Commonwealth University Alumni Association and Communities In Schools parented to host this year’s version.
For Patricia Wilson, who works at the Walmart store in Short Pump, stuffing backpacks brought back memories of when her kids were in school and what it took to get them ready for the start of a new year.
“Thank God they're grown now. Woo! I don’t know if I can put up with it now,” Wilson said. “We didn’t have to get that many school supplies back then like it is now. About $10 to $20, you got your school supplies, but it’s $50 or more now!”
RPS teacher Karen Jefferson brought a stack of paper, notebooks, pencils and crayons to drop off, very aware of the challenges of virtual learning and the pandemic presented to Richmond families.
“Any little bit helps,” Jefferson said. “I think it’s very important for kids to get back, and I’m certain there is a lot of kids ready to get back because I’m certain they missed their friends too.”
The backpacks and supplies collected will be shipped to RPS schools and community groups where they will be passed out to students before school begins on September 8.
“Right here, nothing but love in my heart for [the kids],” Wilson said, placing her hand on her heart. “Unfortunately, some kid's parents can’t buy them schools supplies, so we are doing this so we can help that parent out. And that child won’t have to go to school without a backpack.”
The in-person portion of the drive ends at 6 p.m. Wednesday, but monetary donations can still be made here. Just make sure to select the “Ultimate Backpack” option when making a gift.