Summer’s in full swing, but it won’t be long before kids hear the school bell ring.
To ensure students have everything they need to succeed when classes resume, Oxford-Orion FISH is once again conducting its annual School Backpack Drive.
From now through Aug. 15, the local nonprofit group is collecting donations in the form of brand new backpacks and a whole laundry list of school supplies.
“We’re doing it a little earlier this year because Oxford Schools starts before Labor Day,” explained FISH volunteer Lynn Kennis, who’s coordinating the drive with fellow volunteer Michelle Behm.
Oxford’s first day of the 2018-19 school year is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 27.
FISH is accepting rulers, pencils, pens, pairs of scissors, crayons, colored pencils, glue sticks, line paper, notebooks, folders, erasers, highlighters, pencil cases and sharpeners, markers and three-ring binders.
“We just did an inventory and we need it all,” Kennis said.
The backpacks and supplies will be given to elementary, middle school and high school students in the Oxford and Lake Orion districts. All of the supplies FISH is requesting come directly from the lists teachers send home to parents at the beginning of each school year.
Last year, FISH gave sturdy backpacks brimming with fresh supplies to 207 students. The recipients included 93 elementary students, 58 middle school students and 56 high school students.
“We have generous donors that like to help our children out. As long as we have wonderful donors, which we do, we’ll keep doing this,” said Kennis, who noted that because of a Leader article about last year’s drive, “we got everything we needed donated.”
Donations can be dropped off at the FISH food pantry between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday. It’s located at 487 First St. in Thomas, an unincorporated village in northern Oxford Township, just east of M-24.
Folks who are unable to shop for backpacks and supplies are welcome to donate money if they wish and have a FISH volunteer do the shopping for them.
“We’ll always take cash,” Kennis said.
Kennis, who spent 24 years as a special education teacher for the Lake Orion school district, believes it’s crucial for students to have everything they need to complete classroom and homework assignments. That way they can focus on learning, she said, instead of worrying about their lack of school supplies.
“I think it’s really important that all kids get an equal start at the beginning of the school year,” Kennis said. “I definitely think it helps with their education and their self-esteem.”
Having equal access to backpacks and school supplies helps students from low-income families avoid feelings of embarrassment, shame and isolation.
Being there for the distribution of the backpacks is Kennis’ favorite part of the drive because the students walk through the pantry, like they’re shopping in a store, and choose exactly what they want in terms of color, design and popular images of everything from superheroes to Disney characters.
“I just love seeing the kids come in and pick out their backpacks – the smiles on their faces,” she said. “It’s such a rush. It’s so wonderful to see how happy they are . . . The kids are so appreciative and so are their parents.”
She believes the kids are “more invested” in the process when they get to decide what’s strapped to their backs.
“They have a backpack that they’re proud of, that they like, especially the young ones,” Kennis said.
She firmly believes the children of families who require FISH’s free-food services should enjoy a back-to-school experience that’s no different from kids whose parents are better off financially.
“(Letting them pick their backpacks) is just a way to treat them the same,” she said.
The backpack drive also affords a bit of financial relief to parents because it takes some of the strain off already-tight family budgets, according to Kennis.
“The beginning of school is always an extra expense for them,” she said.