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They got your 'back'packs




One of the favorite times of the year for Taylor Ermoian while growing up in Hays was preparing his backpack for each new school year.

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One of the favorite times of the year for Taylor Ermoian while growing up in Hays was preparing his backpack for each new school year.

"I loved getting school supplies, going to Walmart and picking out my favorite markers," said Ermoian, his eyes twinkling at the thought.

Ermoian, now a college senior, is getting the chance this week to recreate that experience for local youngsters.

Part of Ermoian's responsibilities as a summer intern at First Call for Help in Hays is helping with the nonprofit organization's annual Backpacks for Kids program.

Approximately 400 backpacks for preschool through high school aged students were carried out the door of the Hadley Center on Thursday.

Linda Mills, executive director of First Call for Help, expects "many more" to be picked up this morning.

The only requirement to be eligible for the program is the student live in Ellis County.

Residents were required to sign up and were able to pick up the filled backpacks during a 10-hour time span Thursday. Anyone who had not registered by the sign-up deadline still had the chance to pick up a backpack this morning.

Lois Magie, a Fort Hays State University student working on her master's degree, is the coordinator of the backpack program this year. She started the project while working on her practicum in social work at First Call for Help during the spring semester and stayed on for the summer.

"I told (Mills) I would see it through to the end," Magie said. "I like to finish what I start."

Magie was surprised at the response when donation boxes were set up at local churches, businesses and other organizations.

"I'll tell you what, this community is unbelievable," Magie said. "Once we got church groups and businesses involved, the donations started coming out of the woodwork."

Magie ordered approximately 300 backpacks online, and numerous others were donated by community members.

She chose various designs; others came from donors, including a Hannah Montana one Ermoian was busy stuffing with supplies Thursday.

Ermoian laughed when someone suggested he hadn't owned a Hannah Montana backpack as a youngster.

"I think she was going after Sonic hedgehog trappers the same time I was," he said of teen idol Miley Cyrus, the star of the American comedy series who is the same age as Ermoian.

While people were checking in for pick-up on the first floor, Magie and Ermoian were busy in a second-floor room they dubbed "the backpack room."

While they had pre-packed dozens of backpacks, the duo still was working together, filling backpacks late Thursday morning.

"This room would have been like a playground," Ermoian said, glancing at the tableful of supplies.

There were pens, pencils and erasers, water colors and markers, glue sticks and scissors, notebook paper, tissues, pencil boxes and pocket folders. Each backpack even came with a ream of copy paper. There also was a personal hygiene bag, provided through a grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Backpacks for older students also included three-ring binders and spiral notebooks.

"We try to look at all the school lists and pick the most common items," Mills said.

Distribution boxes were placed at various sites around town last month, and pickup day was July 18, when employees and volunteers brought the supplies to the backpack room at Hadley.

"It is definitely a partnership with the community," Mills said, "because they supply so much of it."