As kitchen tables and living rooms become the new classrooms, many families are finding themselves short on necessary school supplies.
The Northshore Schools Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps support the school district, has seen a huge increase in requests for free school supplies in its newly reimagined Backpacks for Kids program.
“It far exceeded what we anticipated,” NSF Removing Barriers Coordinator Heather Erickson said of the requests for supply kits. “… We went through all our supplies in the first two events.”
So far, the foundation has received nearly 3,000 requests for kits and distributed 1,357, Erickson said. The foundation is planning to host another drive-through distribution event later this month.
Last year, the foundation received around 800 requests in total, according to Erickson. This year's largest increase in need has been for the middle through high school kits, she said.
“I think the community’s in shock,” said NSF Executive Director Carmin Dalziel. “It’s a pretty stressed out time in our community,” she later added.
She said that while many parents are grateful for the supplies during a pick-up, it's meeting only one of many needs many of them are facing.
This year new families are utilizing the program after unexpected changes due to the pandemic, according to Erickson. Some parents have lost their jobs, had hours reduced, or encountered other unexpected hardships and now need extra help.
To meet the technological needs of remote learning, the Northshore School District has distributed nearly 10,300 computing devices and 1,109 wireless internet hotspots, said district spokesperson Lisa Youngblood Hall.
“The numbers continue to climb,” she said in an email, “but we expect to be able to fill the need.”
For the school foundation, this year’s Backpacks for Kids program was also made more difficult by the difficulty of doing donation drives. In its 20 years of existence, the program has been buoyed by large donation drives held by local businesses and community members.
These donations typically add up to between approximately $70,000 and $100,000 worth of supplies, according to Dalziel.
Physical collection sites seemed too difficult to safely manage during a pandemic, she said, so this year the foundation volunteers used monetary donations to buy supplies for the kits.
The kits are made for three different groups: kindergarten through second grade, third through fifth grade, and middle through high school. The kits, which no longer come in backpacks because they’ve been repurposed for learning at home, include anything from crayons to composition notebooks depending on the grade level.
Erickson and Dalziel believe that this year the program is also reaching more people who may have felt too embarrassed to ask for help before because of the anonymous nature of the drive-through distribution events. In past years, many of the kits were given out in the schools.
Erickson said this may be a major reason there is a higher need than ever before at the middle and high school levels.
“We’re removing the stigma of getting something for free or asking for it because you need help,” she said. “That’s hard for young people to do, and it gets harder as a student gets older.”
This is something the foundation will keep in mind as the program continues post-pandemic, Dalziel said.
Foundation volunteers have also distributed 10,000 books to children since the closure of local libraries and helped distribute feminine hygiene products collected by a group of young women who held a period care drive.
To either donate to the school's foundation or request a supply kit, visit www.northshoreschoolsfoundation.org
Kits will be available through May 2021.