Backpack giveaways becoming new end-of-summer tradition in Triangle

tmcdonald@newsobserver.comAugust 25, 2013 

This story incorrectly reported that Wells Fargo contributed to a school supplies giveaway on Old Garner Road in Raleigh on Saturday. The money was donated by Wells Fargo employee Michael Absher and his wife, Jill.

RALEIGH - Lupita Martinez, a fourth-grader at Laurel Park Elementary School, stood in the parking lot of the Old Garner Road Food Mart on Saturday and ticked off the list of things she has to take to school on Monday.

“Two pencil pouches, six folders, two binders, six highlighters and oh yeah, three packages of wide-ruled paper,” she said.

Lupita and her siblings, Denise, 5, and Jair, 7, were wearing navy blue Trail Maker backpacks that a volunteer had handed them at a backpack giveaway Saturday afternoon held in the parking lot just south of downtown.

“This helps,” said the children’s mother, Martha Martinez.

The back-to-school supplies giveaway at the food mart was just one of several in the Triangle on Saturday. Backpack giveaways have become an end-of-summer tradition that draw support from volunteers, community groups, small businesses and big corporations.

Gov. Pat McCrory and First Lady Ann McCrory opened the doors of the Governor’s Mansion on Saturday and welcomed more than 200 families for a “Back to School Brigade” for military children, who were given free backpacks stocked with school supplies. Blocks away on the other end of Blount Street, a back-to-school giveaway was in full swing at the Masonic Building where organizers were giving away food, gifts and more school supplies.

Meanwhile, hundreds of parents and their children lined up in front of the Boys and Girls Club on Raleigh Boulevard where an end-of-summer celebration included school supply giveaways.

The backpack giveaway at the Food Mart was organized by Mary Brown. She works as a housekeeper, but her modest means of making a living does not deter her vision or effort to help others.

“I think it’s so important to give back,” Brown said while taking a break Saturday. “We are all put here for a purpose. This is my purpose. I feel fulfilled doing this.”

Brown said she came up with the idea while working in Moore Square in downtown Raleigh, where she and friends Pam and Jeff Stocks were handing out food to the homeless on Christmas day.

“I met a little boy who told me where he lived did not define who he was,” she said. “That stayed on my mind. That told me that our kids are smart and that we should want to help them.”

Brown enlisted the help of the Stocks, along with several local businesses, including Capitol Ford, Winston's Grille, the Nautical Group, Grill 57 and Hungry Howie’s pizza.

The group spent more than $400 to purchase 200 backpacks, bought $600 worth of hamburgers and fixings, $300 in pizzas, $56 in soda pop and $262 to convince Jam Soft Serve Ice Cream owner Artie Blume of Wake Forest to give away treats from his rainbow-colored ice cream truck.

Jim and Kelly Hollis showed up at the lot at 11 a.m. in a minivan laden with the backpacks. By 2 p.m., they had given away more than 150 of them.

“The girls wanted pink backpacks,” Kelly Hollis said. “We had to talk them into taking green or blue. We didn’t have any pink ones. We had lots of purple ones. The purples went fast.”

One volunteer, Lori McLeod, said the giveaways are helpful to parents struggling to make ends meet because schools are asking children to bring in more supplies, not only for themselves but for their classrooms as a consequence of tight budgets.

“My daughter is in middle school, and she has to bring two reams of copy paper, two rolls of paper towels, dry eraser markers – a whole list of things, because we’re supplying the classrooms,” McLeod said. “My child will be taking two grocery bags of supplies on her first day. It’s sad.”

With school supply lists averaging between $50 and $100 per child, McLeod said, it can get expensive for parents with more than one student in the house.

Karen Bell, who lives across the street from the giveaway, showed up at the event with three of her four grandchildren in tow.

“This is very helpful,” Bell said. “Their mom is struggling. She’s unemployed. This really helps. I am thankful.”

McDonald: 919-829-4533

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