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Backpacks for Kids returning





While local students are busy enjoying their last month of summer vacation, community organizers are hard at work making sure families in need will have school supplies for the upcoming year.

While First Call for Help of Ellis County won't be distributing the new backpacks until Aug. 7, there's a special collection drive for school supplies planned for Friday.

Collection boxes are available at some local churches and business, but the big drive is planned for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday at Walmart, Dillon stores and Dollar General in Hays.

The local nonprofit organization is looking to donate supplies to approximately 650 students, an increase of nearly 70 from last year's Backpacks for Kids event. With enrollment fees increasing, organizers expect more families will need assistance, said Linda Mills, executive director of First Call for Help.

"We just think that the need may be greater this year due to the increases in school fees, and we want to be sure we're prepared for it," Mills said.

Parents wanting to reserve backpacks for their children should call (785) 623-2800 by July 28. There is no guarantee a child will get a backpack on distribution day if it is not reserved ahead of time, due to high demand.

There are no eligibility requirements for the program, other than the family must live in Ellis County.

In May, the Hays USD 489 Board of Education voted to increase student workbook/enrollment fees by $60, bringing the fee to $160. The increased fee has been approved only for this school year.

The board also voted to approve a $150 fee for all-day kindergarten. There was not previously a kindergarten fee. Activity fees also have been increased by $50 for Hays Middle School and Hays High School.

"With the budget cuts coming down from the schools and everything, it's really hurting (parents). And the teachers are passing some of the responsibilities on to the student, such as the reams of copy paper," said Lois Magie, coordinator of the backpacks program.

As a result of changing local budgets and classroom needs, the organization plans to re-evaluate its recommended supply lists next year for different grade levels and make adjustments as needed. Many teachers, for example, now ask students to bring hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes, Magie said.

Each child will receive a new backpack filled with a variety of age-appropriate supplies, such as notebooks, pencils, art supplies, facial tissues and school boxes. The value of each backpack is estimated at $50, Mills said, noting that could make a significant difference in some families' budgets.

"If you have multiple children, you're paying $160 each child to enroll them, an additional $150 in school supplies can make a big difference in their budgets," Mills said. "I think even parents with one child could struggle with those costs, but parents with multiple kids in school are really (going to)."

Children also will receive a bag of personal hygiene supplies, provided this year through a grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield.

At Friday's collection, supply lists will be available to customers entering the businesses, and donation boxes will be set up at each exit for donations.

Monetary donations also are welcome, and collection jars soon will be appearing at some local businesses.

First Call for Help will distribute new backpacks full of school supplies to local families from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 7 on the first floor of the Hadley Center. Supplies will be available for grades preschool to 12.

Volunteers also are needed for distribution day. Those interested can contact the agency to make arrangements.