For the seventh straight year the Lakeland Sharing Foundation’s goal of honoring the dignity and valuing the importance of every child in the Lakeland area was carried out once again through the backpack program.
Recently, dozens of volunteers gathered together to complete the difficult job of packing, lifting and distributing hundreds of backpacks to children in the Lac du Flambeau, North Lakeland, Minocqua-Hazelhurst-Lake Tomahawk and Arbor Vitae-Woodruff schools – a task that isn’t taken lightly by the foundation’s organizers.
Pam Pound and Susan Holmes, both volunteers with the foundation, said that the efforts of so many volunteers and other community service groups make it all come to fruition.
But it’s not without a lot of planning and streamlining of operations over the course of the past few years.
The foundation was started several years ago, Pound said, when the Toys for Tots program was discontinued. Picking up on the idea of helping children in the area who may not be on equal economic footing with other children was and continues to be the impetus behind not only the backpack distribution program, but also the Christmas distribution program organized and handled by volunteers of the foundation.
“It started with members of the community [coming together] to help children who are less fortunate than others,” Pound said. “Fifty percent [of the children in Lakeland schools] qualify for free and reduced lunches and those are the kids we take care of.”
In all, there are between 60 and 100 people involved with the foundation who volunteer their time between the backpack and Christmas distribution programs.
With a budget of about $18,000 for the backpack program, the foundation works with community retailers such as Wal-Mart and Walgreens to purchase school supplies and backpacks to help with the distribution.
The foundation also partners and works closely with the school administrators and teachers to organize and develop lists of items that are needed.
For instance, this year the foundation ordered 16,000 pencils, thousands of notebooks and hundreds of cases of loose leaf paper that are among the items stuffed by volunteers into the backpacks.
In 2013, there were more than 1,000 backpacks provided to children from the area schools and this year those numbers should be similar.
“The goal is to provide children with what they need to be successful," Holmes said.
While the process of stuffing the backpacks was under way prior to the start of school this summer, children volunteers from the schools also helped with the lifting and toting of the filled backpacks which will be distributed to parents and students during open houses prior to the start of the school year.
“We have fine-tuned things every year,” Patterson said. “The big changes the past couple of years is that we have worked with schools very closely,” she added.
The schools have set aside specific rooms to the foundation for the backpack-filling operation so that everything is centralized for the effort.
All the volunteers are also trained and an “assembly line” process is carried out to make sure that students up through eighth grade get the supplies they need in their backpacks.
And it’s the difference that a new backpack and school supplies make to help brighten the day for those who receive them that are the most important reasons why the volunteers of the foundation make the program happen.
In addition to sending out a fundraising mailing each year, the foundation is also supported by area service organizations and other donations that come through individuals and groups to help support the program.
“It’s just wonderful to see,” Pound said. “I wish more people could see the reactions of the kids and the smiles on the faces of the kids when they get their backpacks.”
“And it’s wonderful to see how the community supports the program,” Holmes added.
“We really appreciate the community support. It’s heartwarming for us and helps us do what we do,” Pound said.
Raymond T. Rivard may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.