Even though the next school year is still seven months away, a small army of volunteers will be ringing the school bells of a good cause at a Shoes & Snacks for Backpacks fundraiser this Saturday.
The fundraiser will combine a family fun snowshoe event with food and beverage treats at the Grand Traverse Commons in Traverse City from 1-5 p.m. The idea is to raise funds to fill backpacks with much-needed school supplies in the coming year.
This year we will pass the 10,000 milestone of backpacks donated for kids in need since the projects inception in 2004, says Nancy Thornton, a Kingsley resident and marketing professional who serves president of the Rotary Club of Traverse Bay Sunrise. We expect to distribute approximately 1,300 backpacks in 2011, and will also distribute 1,100 books as part of the project.
Typically, the 55-member club raises between $17,000-$20,000 each year. That amount helps pay for hundreds of age-appropriate backpacks. It costs about $15 per backpack for elementary school students and closer to $25 per backpack for the high school kids, Thornton says.
Its no small operation: the club spends all year raising the money and purchasing the supplies and then has a marathon pack-stuffing event, followed by distribution of the packs over a five-county area.
Our main fundraiser has been a raffle each year, but last year we decided to do a snowshoe event that was such a success that weve expanded it this year, Thornton says.
People can come out and go snowshoeing at the Commons and well also have a bonfire on the grounds with smore fixings. Weve also enlisted the support of the food merchants at the Commons participants can stop in at Pleasanton Bakery, Underground Cheesecake, Left Foot Charley, Higher Grounds and other providers. They will receive a complimentary treat (free wine tasting, cup of coffee, cheesecake treat, and mini-Pleasanton. Snowshoes will be available on site from GT Cycle for a nominal $5 rental fee).
So, what goes into those packs?
Everything from glue sticks, pens and tissues to notebooks, calculators and mechanical pencils, depending upon the age of the students receiving the backpacks and what their needs are. There will also be an age-appropriate book included in each pack this year.
The backpacks go to a number of distribution sources, with the majority going to K-5 kids in the Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) system, the Traverse Bay Intermediate School District, and special needs students. We partner with TCAPS and the school system IDs students who are going to be part of the project each year.
Needless to say, children across five counties are thrilled to receive their new backpacks on distribution day in the fall.
The elementary school kids are really excited because thats what they are in general at that age, but the high school kids also appreciate it because a lot of them really have their backs against the wall and may be struggling to graduate under difficult circumstances. This is a really big vote of confidence for them.
Often, recipients of the backpacks come from families which are going through hard times due to unemployment, the loss of a family member or divorce that has thrown the entire family into a state of crisis.
The parents tend to be very appreciative, Thornton notes. Often, these are families that have three, four, even five kids, and that adds up.
Shoe & Snacks for Backpacks will be held this Saturday, Feb. 19 from 1-5 p.m. at the Grand Traverse Commons (check the rear of Building 50 where the snowshoe trails are). Snowshoes will be available for a $5 fee. A donation of $15 per individual or $25 per family will provide participants with treat tastings at the event. Registration will take place at TBAISD Administration & Conference Center, and additional details and on-line advance registration are available at www.tcsunriserotary.org
-- By Robert Downes