Charity groups stuff backpacks with school supplies for local children

A pair of charity efforts will connect thousands of local children this month with backpacks full of school supplies.

City Gates Ministries collected nearly 700 backpacks to distribute Thursday (Aug. 14) evening at its weekly gathering in a parking lot at State and Adams streets in downtown Olympia. The event includes free haircuts, clothing, shoes, hygiene items and more for low-income families, said Pastor Phil Prietto.

“The real objective is to build relationships with people who are down and out,” said Prietto, noting his ministry’s mission to be a resource for all people in need. “It’s not completely about the homeless.”

The Little Red Schoolhouse project expects to donate more than 3,000 backpacks later this month, said committee member Cheryl Huffman. Volunteers will pass out backpacks, clothing, coats and more from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 21 at Komachin Middle School, 3650 College St. SE, Lacey.

In addition to school supplies, the project needs underwear and socks for children, Huffman said.

The project served about 1,100 local families in 2013, and the number has been growing in recent years, Huffman said. The recession has created higher demand for donations, especially among the working poor, she said.

“For the families, it’s not just the school supplies,” said Huffman, noting that many of today’s school expenses include student photos and activity fees. “That’s pretty overwhelming for some of these low-income families.”

Donations sites are available through Friday (Aug. 15) at all Heritage Bank locations in Thurston County. The organization will also collect donations all day Aug. 15 at the corner of State Avenue and Washington Street in downtown Olympia.

According to a year-long census released this spring, Thurston County schools reported 1,584 homeless students in 2014 — an increase of almost 400 students from the previous year. The census includes students who are staying with friends and family, and only includes children enrolled in school. According to census organizers, 42 percent of homeless children are estimated to be under age 6.